Our research integrates techniques developed in biology, polymer chemistry,
and surface science to study bioengineering at the cell/surface and protein/surface level.
Understanding gained from this fundamental research will allow for the directed design of novel
engineered cellular constructs in the future.
We are actively working in the following areas:
1. Assessment of the Biocompatibility,
Stability, and Suitability of Thermoresponsive pNIPAM for Cellular Constructs.
The term “smart materials”
refers to a class of materials that undergo a physical change in response
to environmental cues. Poly(N-isopropyl acrylamide) (pNIPAM)
undergoes a change in surface hydrophobicity as a response to temperature
drop around physiological temperatures (~32 °C). This change is transmitted
to adhered cells and opens up the use of pNIPAM-treated surfaces for a
variety of bioengineering applications, including cell-based sensors,
drug delivery systems, and engineered tissues.
2. Plasma Polymerization of "Smart"
Materials. Depending on the application,
a variety of techniques have been used to deposit pNIPAM onto surfaces.
Some of the techniques include grafting using UV or electron beam irradiation,
atom transfer radical polymerization, solution deposition, and vapor-phase
plasma polymerization. In this work, the technique used to deposit pNIPAM
films is plasma polymerization of NIPAM.
3. "Smart" Surfaces for Research in Cancer Cell Biology. Spheroids are small (~50-1000 µm diameter) sphere-shaped aggregates of cells that have been developed as 3D models for tumors. In addition to providing a model that more closely approximates the microenvironments of tissues and tumors than 2D cultures, spheroids can be more easily controlled than tests preformed on animal models. Current approaches for spheroid formation result in spheroids with a wide size distribution, requiring the use of secondary sorting to obtain a uniformly-sized population. To increase the efficacy of these models for drug discovery in cancer therapeutics, it is necessary to develop an efficient way to fabricate a large number of uniform spheroids.
In collaboration with Angela Wandiger-Ness and James Freyer, we seek to develop pNIPAM-treated substrates for the gentle release of cellular spheroids into suspension for cancer cell biology studies. Preliminary studies from this project were included in the dissertation of Dr. Jamie Reed, a recent graduate from the Canavan group.
4. Investigation of the Cytotoxicity of Biocidal
Polymers. The Whitten
groups synthesize, characterize, and develop applications for phenylene
ethynylene-based polymers. These polymers are of interested because they
are synthetic biomimetic analogs to naturally occurring antimicrobial
peptides (AMPs). Because of their non-specific mode of action, the polymers
are expected to be effective at killing even drug-resistant bacteria,
such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Envisioned
applications of the biocidal polymer include the consumable materials
used in hospitals, as they carry the potential to transfer infectious
bacteria to the patient. However, prior to their use we are evaluating
the potential toxicity of these polymers toward eukaryotic cells in such
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