Early Career Researchers – Rising Stars in Nanotechnology forging new paths: Mahlah Poudineh

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

mahla poudineh
WIN welcomed Mahla Poudineh as a Core Member in January 2020 as she started her position as Assistant Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Professor Poudineh’s research has nanotechnology at its core: truly multidisciplinary, combining new nanomaterials with novel device designs. Her laboratory is aptly named “IDEATION” which stands for Integrated Devices for Early disease Awareness and Translational applicatIONs where new biosensing approaches are being discovered for therapeutics and diagnostics, to translate this technology to a user-friendly biomedical device for clinical use. IDEATION’s overall mission is to deploy advanced engineering tools and techniques to help improve the quality of life and long-term survival of patients. At IDEATION, Professor Poudineh is seeking new diagnostic methods for cancer and other diseases – wearable micro/nano devices, and real-time detection of small molecules and biomarkers in living systems.

Her passion to help patients in need started when she was a Masters student at the University of Tehran, where she was able to put the knowledge and engineering theory she learned during her undergraduate program (also at the University of Tehran) to practical use in a research laboratory. She went on to pursue doctoral studies at the University of Toronto, and under the guidance of her thesis advisor, Professor Ted Sargent and Professor Shana Kelley, she published a very impactful article “Tracking the dynamics of circulating tumour cell phenotypes using nanoparticlemediated magnetic ranking” in the journal Nature Nanotechnology 12 (3), 274-281 (2017).

In this work, Professor Poudineh successfully designed a microfluidic chip to process whole blood samples for cancer patients using a process known as Magnetic Ranking Cytometry (MagRC). This technology utilizes magnetic nanoparticles functionalized with antibodies that bind to specific sites on the tumour cell membrane. When a blood sample is treated with these nanoparticles and introduced into the microfluidic chip, the magnetic field applied to the MagRC system traps the labelled cancer cells, physically separating them from all other healthy blood cells. This technology can be used to identify the biochemical differences or ‘phenotype’ between circulating tumour cells (CTC) from certain cancers, which would lead to a better understanding of disease progression, and ultimately allow personalized treatment options.

Professor Poudineh's interest in biosensors continued throughout her work at Stanford University as a Post-doctorate Fellow. With Professor Tom Soh’s group, a device was developed that could continuously track multiple analytes in blood samples at very low concentrations. The publication titled, “Continuous Detection of Glucose and Insulin in Live Animals” describes how the team developed “real-time ELISA” or RT-ELISA to track different biomarkers – an aptameric probe for blood glucose, and a fluorescence-bead based immunoassay for insulin detection. This assay was the first to simultaneously and continuously measure both blood glucose and insulin in-vivo with live diabetic rats at pico-molar concentrations.  

Additionally, this system was able to distinguish the dynamics and response of insulin moving through a living system (pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics). The results of this study can ultimately lead the way for clinicians to create optimal therapeutic regimens tailored to individual patients, and can provide a platform testing system for health conditions beyond diabetes, detecting miniscule amounts of critical biomarkers for cardiovascular disorders and other metabolic or neurodegenerative diseases.


ELISA platform for detection of blood glucose and insulin levels in real-time. The biosensor draws blood sample from rat. The blood then mixes with detection reagents, passes through a chamber to eliminate excess cells, and then arrives at the fluorescent beads detection area.

At IDEATION, Professor Poudineh is now exploring new platforms for detection of other cancer biomarkers such as exosomes and circulating tumor DNA, and will also expand to wearable platforms to monitor metabolic diseases such as diabetes, and new devices for vaccine development with direct applicability to SARS-CoV-2.

When asked why she chose the University of Waterloo she replied, “I always wanted to apply my engineering knowledge to medical problems. At WIN it is wonderful to be surrounded by other researchers in so many different disciplines with similar passion to serve the community. It is a source of inspiration.”

WIN is delighted to have Professor Poudineh as a member, and we know she will excel in all aspects of her research. Welcome aboard!