Richard E. Waugh

Professor of Biomedical Engineering; Professor of Biochemistry & Biophysics; Professor of Pharmacology & Physiology
PhD, Duke University, 1977

218 Robert B. Goergen Hall
(585) 275-3768
Fax: (585) 276-1999



Richard Waugh is professor and chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Rochester and holds a part-time appointment as associate vice-president for research at the University. He received his BS in engineering science in 1973 from the University of Notre Dame; and his doctorate in biomedical engineering from Duke University in 1977. After a brief time as a postdoctoral fellow, he joined the faculty at Rochester as a member of the Department of Biophysics in 1980. His research interests include biomechanics of cell membranes, cells and cell adhesion, with emphasis on underlying mechanisms of hemolytic anemia, inflammation, and microvascular perfusion.  He is an active member of the Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) having served on the Board of Directors of BMES from 10/01 –10/04, chair of the Finance Committee from 10/04 – 10/08, chair of the Executive Director Search Committee from 10/08-3/09, and president of BMES from October 2010 - 2012.  He is a fellow of BMES, AIMBE, and AAAS, and is also a member of the Biophysical Society.  He served on the Editorial Board of the Biophysical Journal, was formerly a member of the Scientific Advisory Committee of the Whitaker Foundation, and is currently a member of the HM study section.  He is the founding chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Rochester, and has played a pivotal role in the establishment and growth of the department and its degree programs.

In research, Dr. Waugh is a recognized leader in the study of cell and membrane mechanics and the structural basis for the mechanical behavior of cells and membranes. He has made major contributions to the understanding of membrane physical properties with an emphasis on relating changes in molecular structure and composition to their functional consequences. Much of his research centered on the red blood cell because it is an ideal model system for studying fundamental aspects of membrane behavior and because of the direct relevance red cell membrane stability has in understanding hemolytic anemia and vascular perfusion. He has also done fundamental work to characterize the basic properties of phospholipid bilayers, providing insight about the behavior of these basic structures found in all cell membranes. In addition, he was among the first to examine the mechanical properties of leukocytes and related cell types, again providing fundamental information about the relationship between the organization of cytoskeletal components and the consequent effects on rheological behavior. Most recently, he has turned his attention to leukocyte adhesion. Ongoing experiments are aimed at revealing the mechanisms that regulate the formation of adhesive contacts between cells and between cells and immobilized adhesive ligands. He was the first to quantify the interrelation of mechanical forces and the formation of adhesive contacts, and continues to explore how mechanics, surface topography, and chemical activation of cells combine to control adhesion.

Research Overview

In our laboratory we study the mechanical properties of cells and the mechanochemistry of cell adhesion. We are particularly interested in learning about the molecular mechanisms underlying the control of cell deformability and cell adhesion, and the role that mechanical forces and membrane stability play in both the formation and separation of adhesive contacts. Our fundamental approach is to perform mechanical measurements on individual cells or cell pairs to measure response of cells to applied forces or the probability of cell adhesion under controlled conditions. Our main focus is the study of cells in the peripheral vasculature. The deformability of circulating cells and adhesive interactions between cells in the vasculature has relevance to diverse aspects of human physiology ranging from oxygen delivery and hemolytic anemia, to atherosclerosis or immune response and inflammation. Historically, our lab has been one of the leading facilities for investigating red blood cell mechanical properties and the stability of biological membranes. More recently we have begun to examine the physical mechanisms underlying neutrophil adhesion to endothelium, a key event in the body's response to infection or injury. Another area of interest is in the late stage maturation of red blood cells. We have observed changes in the mechanical properties that occur as red cells develop and mature. We are working on developing methods to observe the maturation of red cells in culture so that we can follow the maturation process in the laboratory. By correlating changes in mechanical stability with the appearance and assembly of cytoskeletal proteins we can deduce which molecules and what interactions are important for developing proper mechanical function. Maintaining mechanical stability appears to be critical for the successful completion of red blood cell maturation, as it appears that instabilities in the cell surface lead to loss of cell membrane and cell death if the membranes are not properly supported mechanically as they mature.