Research

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Our group is interested in the development of biopolymer systems that will allow the study of cells’ interactions with their microenvironment and that can be used for both tissue regeneration and therapeutics. More specifically, we are investigating the controlled delivery of bioactive factors and therapeutics, the presentation of insoluble signals to cells, the effect of mechanical forces on cell behavior and tissue formation, and the influence that different cell populations have on one another. These advances will lead to improved biomaterial system design criteria. In addition to our tissue engineering research, we are also engineering biopolymer systems for controlled delivery of therapeutic molecules for the treatment of cancer. Ultimately, what we learn in our laboratory will help to improve patient therapies that are available in the clinic.

Some of the projects we are currently working on include:
Bio-inspired mineralization of hydrogels for bone and dental regeneration. We are engineering materials with calcium phosphates that can be tuned to match any desired biological apatite, including bone, dentin, and enamel. We have demonstrated the ability to fabricate composite materials with the mineral phase encapsulated within a polymeric hydrogel or as a surface coating, with the ability to control the thickness, location, morphology, and chemistry of the mineral phases.

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Controlled antibody delivery. Our group has engineered biopolymer hydrogels capable of sustained release of antibodies and antibody fragments over extended periods of time. These hydrogels also have tunable mechanical properties. The influence of extended antibody release on cancer cell proliferation and signaling is currently being investigated.

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Controlled drug delivery from zwitterionic cryogels. Zwitterionic materials are well known for their superior anti-fouling properties, and we have developed a novel class of these materials capable of highly sustained protein release over time.

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Hydrogel delivery systems for cartilage regeneration in growth plate injuries. Growth plate cartilage in children is fragile and prone to damage. We are engineering novel biopolymer systems that may prevent bony bar formation in these injury sites and promote the regeneration of the cartilage tissue. Our group is working collaboratively with Karin Payne, Ph.D.’s group in Orthopedics at University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine to test our materials in a rat growth plate injury model (shown below).

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Three dimensional bipolymer scaffolds for ophthalmology applications. The trabecular meshwork is an important tissue within the eye that may play a role in glaucoma. With Mina Pantcheva, M.D. at University of Colorado Denver, we are investigating the culture of trabecular meshwork cells on natural 3D biopolymer scaffolds and their response to various therapeutic molecules. Such a system could ultimately be used for novel glaucoma drug screening.

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Mechanically strong biopolymer hydrogels. In general, hydrogels have advantages of facile encapsulation of cells and bioactive factors to aid in tissue regeneration, but one of their major downsides is weak mechanical properties. With collaborators at Northeastern University (Randall Erb, Ph.D.), we are working to develop mechanical strong biopolymer hydrogels that are capable of growth factor and cell encapsulation for bone regeneration applications.

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