Wilson receives National Science Foundation CAREER Award

John T. Wilson

John T. Wilson, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, has received a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development award.

The five-year, $500,000 grant – Engineering Polymeric Nanomaterials for Programming Innate Immunity – will allow Wilson to develop new synthetic materials for “encoding” immunological messages and tightly regulating their delivery to the organs, cells, and pathways of the immune system.

“This research will address a fundamental need for new tools to control, understand, and harness the immune system, which has significant ramifications in vaccine development, cancer immunotherapy, and treatment of autoimmune disorders,” Wilson said.

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Immune cells sense invading pathogens using an array of pattern recognition receptors (PRRs). The signals emerging from these receptors trigger the type and magnitude of an immune response. Regulating the delivery of cues to these receptors is fundamental to controlling the immune system. “But, there is a lack of synthetic tools that can properly encode these physicochemically diverse cues to reach a desired immunological outcome,” Wilson said.

In this project, Wilson will engineer pathogen-mimicking polymer nanoparticles for connecting multiple immunological cues and controlling their delivery to the appropriate pathways of immune cells.  By doing so, these studies will also address questions about how materials can be designed to coordinate signaling from diverse receptors localized throughout cells. Wilson heads the Laboratory for Immunomodulatory Biomaterials where the research will be conducted.

Wilson joined the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Vanderbilt University in January 2014. He earned a bachelor’s degree in bioengineering at Oregon State University, where he trained in a number of academic and industrial research labs, including the Oregon Medical Laser Center and Bayer Pharmaceuticals. He received a Ph.D. in bioengineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology, and completed a Cancer Research Institute Irvington post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Washington in the area of molecularly engineered materials for the delivery of vaccines and immunotherapeutics.

The Faculty Early Career Development awards are considered NSF’s most prestigious honor for junior faculty members. They are given to exceptionally promising college and university junior faculty who are committed to the integration of research and education and who are most likely to become academic leaders.

National Science Foundation grant 1554623.

Brenda Ellis, (615) 343-6314
Twitter @VUEngineering