Biomaterials and Drug Delivery
Advances in medicine are largely dependent on understanding the elegant, highly specific mechanisms that control biological and physical processes in nature. Whether it's development of an extracellular matrix-mimetic biomaterial scaffold, synthesis of a nanoparticle that incorporates virus-like functionalities or molecular engineering of diagnostic probes, bio-inspiration is a shared theme in this group of research labs. The Advanced Therapeutics Laboratory, the Combinatorial Biomaterials and Biointerface Laboratory and the Laboratory of Bionanotechnology and Nanomedicine are united through the common goal to develop novel materials technologies to significantly impact the future of medicine.
Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering
Prior to launching the ATL, I became intrigued by the fact that biologic molecules such as proteins and DNA present in a mammalian cell have exquisitely controlled and specific capabilities to turn on and off the basic processes in the cell, yet pharmaceutical scientists invest billions of dollars to develop synthetic, man-made molecules to mimic these same unctionalities. Conceivably, better pharmaceuticals with higher specificity and fewer side effects could be created if we could harness the naturally evolved functions of these biologics to control cell functions involved in the progression of disease. However, current pharmaceutical technology suffers from the inability to overcome the barriers that inhibit delivery of biologic drugs (i.e. proteins and DNA). All the while, viral and bacterial bugs have evolved to efficiently deliver their own proteins, such as bacterial toxins and viral DNA, into cells. The overall theme of the ATL is to formulate bio-inspired, "smart" polymers into delivery vehicles capable of mimicking the naturally evolved systems' capacity for efficient intracellular delivery of therapeutic proteins and nucleic acids.
Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering
For years I've been fascinated by the idea of engineering living organisms and designing artificial organs using synthetic materials that manipulate fundamental biological mechanisms, such as embryogenesis, organogenesis and regeneration. Movies like Jurassic Park and Robocop inspired me to pursue a new path in science and engineering. Since then my research has helped to advance the field of biomedical engineering, in particular polymeric biomaterials for cell and tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. My research goal as principal investigator of the Combinatorial Biomaterials and Biointerface Lab is to identify the underlying mechanisms by which cells and tissues interact with polymeric matrices and coordinate dynamic biochemical signals to change their microenvironments. We will apply this knowledge to develop the next generation of polymeric biomaterials for regenerative medicine and medical device technologies.
Professor of Biomedical Engineering
Much of my personal motivation for working in biomedical engineering derives from my interest in dreaming up new technologies or devices to directly impact health and our understanding of the underlying cellular and molecular sciences. My laboratory has made contributions in many diverse areas from fluid mechanics of high frequency ventilation used with premature infants to optically activated gene expression for delivering targeted genetic therapies. Many of our current lab projects involve the application of unusual physical properties at the micro- and nanoscale to develop novel diagnostic tools. I am particularly excited about our progress toward developing nanoscale retinal imaging agents as a tool to predict the progression of atherosclerotic lesions in coronary arteries. Imagine the potential for a simple eye exam as a window on coronary disease. Equally exciting is our recent progress in developing a method to diagnose an infection from a single drop of blood using the "coffee ring" phenomenon. This technology promises to deliver modern medical diagnostic knowledge to a much greater fraction of the world's population where it would directly enable life-saving decisions.
Professor and Chair of Biomedical Engineering
My childhood included covert use of chemistry kits for experiments not described in the instructions, and curiosity about living systems. Today, my research and teaching activities reflect the same interests. Much of biology operates under amazing control at a molecular level. Our group leverages new methods to create nanoscale materials for sensing and modifying the control of molecular events inside cells. Biomedical engineering principles are central to my work. My studies use quantitative experimental approaches and mathematical representations to understand the behaviors of complex living systems. I apply the resulting knowledge and biologically responsive nanostructures to important challenges in human health as part of a larger initiative in nanomedicine.
Vanderbilt is an ideal place for the interdisciplinary effort required by my studies. We have terrific collaborations, including faculty in medicine, medical sciences and among my colleagues in biomedical engineering. I'm currently part of an interdisciplinary team developing a nanostructure designed to overcome the drug resistance that contributes to poor clinical outcomes in cancer treatment. Craig Duvall is creating new materials suitable for delivery of siRNA to inhibit drug resistance, and I'm applying a novel molecular "trigger" to ensure specific delivery to cancer cells. My work is also focused on engineering-based strategies designed to reactivate immune system recognition of cancer cells. Clinical oncologists, medical scientists and breast cancer survivors are part of the research teams involved in the design and assessment of these approaches to ensure that our efforts will have impact in medical practice. Our activity in translating research to practice is represented by an early phase nanobiotechnology company initiated from ideas developed in my laboratory.