Dr Nerem initial interest was motivated by the possible role of fluid dynamics in atherosclerosis, and he has conducted fundamental research on problems in cardiovascular fluid dynamics.
In 1981 he established a cell culture laboratory and began to study the influence of physical forces on anchorage-dependent mammalian cells, with much of this work focusing on the cells which make up a blood vessel. This work led to his interest in tissue engineering, and he was the director of the Georgia Tech/Emory Center for the Engineering of Living Tissues (GTEC), an Engineering Research Center established in 1998 and funded by the National Science Foundation until 2009.
From 1995 to 2009 Nerem served as the director of the Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience, a research institute whose mission is to integrate engineering, information technology, and the life sciences in the conduct of biomedical research. In addition, he served on a part-time basis from 2003 to 2006 as the senior advisor for bioengineering in the National Institute of Health’s (NIH) newest institute, the National Institute for Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering.