BioPACIFIC MIP Research: SET 3 - Functional Biomimics
What is your research focus?
My research is on optogels; hydrogel networks containing optically switchable proteins. These optoproteins are bioderived from nature, and sensitive to light in a manner that they will dimerize/tetramerize/elongate themselves (depending on the protein) under certain light conditions in a reversible manner. Incorporated in the gels these proteins work as crosslinkers that bind/unbind under control by the user, which has been seen affects the gels’ mechanical properties, e.g. stiffness or even gel-sol transition behavior. Many mechanical properties remain unexamined, and especially there has been no uniform way of making and characterizing these gels, why it is hard to determine what in the composition give rise to a certain property. My short-term goal is to create a simple PEG-based experimental platform from which I can generate high throughput results varying different optoprotein components, concentrations, and more to “map” the different materials that can be made and how their composition change the material functionality. The long-term goal is to exchange PEG to a natural biodegradable polymer for a sustainable biomaterial based on biochemistries separated from petroleum consumption. Typical applications for optogels are for example cell mechanics studies, organoid engineering and stem cell cultivation, where a controlled cell environment is crucial for controlled experiments towards desired results.
What excites you about NSF BioPACIFIC MIP?
I am interested in broadening my network of other researchers in the biomaterials field that I can exchange ideas and potentially collaborate with. The BioPACIFIC MIP project suits me well since I know at least Prof. Pitenis', Wilson’s, Hawker’s and Javier Read de Alaniz’ labs do research closely related to what I do in terms of light sensitive materials, proteins, peptides and polymers. The instruments in the MIP facility would be of great help in my project. I hope to be able to use for example the DLP for fine patterning of gel regions. The robotic polymer synthesis platform also seems to be a great tool when making many of the same samples, varying one component or one concentration. SAXS systems may work well for pore size determination in the gels, and the rheometer is another great characterization tool since rheological properties have been shown to be light-controllable in optogels. In general, I am interested in instruments helping me generate high-throughput methods for examining many different variations of my gels at the same time, since characterization techniques and measurements will be the same over and over again.