In my current position as a Postdoctoral Associate in Research Triangle MRSEC and Biomedical Engineering Department at Duke University (2012 to present) in Prof. Gabriel Lopez’s lab and in close collaboration with Prof. Ashutosh Chilkoti, I have designed and constructed a wide range of biopolymers to understand their bulk behavior as a function of their molecular design. I have used these biopolymers in applications ranging from bio-analytics to mechanically robust biomaterials and hydrogels. I used genetic engineering to design complex biopolymers inspired by nature but unique in their existence and characteristics. Using the structure-function relationship of these genetically engineered materials I successfully designed hierarchically structured biomaterials with novel mechanical characteristics. My extensive experience with bio-inspired and genetically engineered materials provides a highly flexible and powerful toolbox that I use to design, modify, and construct virtually any peptide, biopolymer and protein. These materials have utility in applications ranging from theranostics to bioassays to surface engineering and hydrogels. I believe my strong background in chemical engineering, biomolecular engineering, and biopolymer design, in combination with more than 6 years of industrial experience as a chemical engineer and years of teaching and mentoring experience prepared me very well to become a faculty member.
As a new faculty, I will explore a number of diverse but related avenues. Here I present a broad view of a couple of ideas that I will pursue. First, I will use my background in biomolecular, biopolymer, and hydrogel engineering to design tunable bio-inspired, biologically active, hierarchically structured hydrogels. The goal is to use protein and peptide engineering to develop a system in which the components and their assembly process can be chosen on demand and based on the final desired mechanical and functional characteristics of the gel (e.g. toughness, stretchability, bioactivity, bio-responsiveness…). This is especially useful considering that hydrogels are generally assembled based on empirical approaches rather than precise programming of these materials at the building block level. My ultimate goal is to provide the ability to select the physicochemical characteristics and resultant functionality of bio-based hydrogels by tailoring components and conditions that result in such hydrogels with minimum number of trials. I am confident that I can accomplish this through seamless programming of biopolymers and their derivatives.
The second area that I will explore is the use of genetically engineered self-assembled particles (micelles, vesicles, LBL assembled,…) to address the critical issues of in vivo diagnostics/monitoring and controlled and sustained drug delivery. In many disease treatment approaches ranging from diabetics to cancers, it is quite challenging to either maintain a sustained release of drug over the course of time or to deliver the active cargo (drug, gene…) on demand. I will address this issue by using protease and peptide biomarkers as a regulatory means for sustained and controlled release of materials from engineered carriers. The combination of my background in stimuli responsive materials, micelle and nano particle engineering, and protease assay development provide me all the needed platforms to design an all-in-one monitoring and release system that works based on continuous feedback from specific biomarkers.
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