- Advisor: Paula Diaconescu
- Department: Chemistry and Biochemistry
- Campus: UCLA
- BioPACIFIC MIP Research: SET 3 - Functional Biomimics
What is your research focus?
My research aligns with SET 3, as I am developing a functional, biopolymer-based hydrogel that is designed to mimic the biomechanical properties of natural extracellular matrices (ECM). Recent studies have implicated the mechanical features of the ECM in regulating in vivo cell function and driving cell differentiation. Since extracting and purifying large amounts of ECM for in vitro studies is unfeasible, hydrogels have emerged as promising alternatives for use in mechanistic and in vivo applications. To this end, we are developing a hydrogel with tunable biomechanical and chemical properties. We have chosen two commercially available biopolymers, gelatin and chitosan, as the backbones of this hydrogel, as they are biocompatible and can be chemically modified to introduce functional groups for subsequent site-specific chemistries. Our overarching goal is to fabricate a biomaterial that mimics the viscoelasticity of native ECM, which arises from a unique class of cross-linking termed dynamic covalent cross-linking. To this end, we will fabricate thioester-linked gelatin-chitosan hybrid hydrogels, as thioester bonds can undergo thiol exchange and on-demand cleavage by varying the basicity or acidity of the medium. In order to increase the lifespan of our gel and improve its stability, we will also include static covalent bonds (via photoinitiated thiol-ene chemistry) in our cross-linking approach. By changing the ratio of dynamic to static covalent cross-linking, we will fabricate gels with a wide range of mechanical properties. We will then use our gel as a 3D culture medium to investigate the effect of viscoelasticity on cell behavior in vitro.
What excites you about NSF BioPACIFIC MIP?
My interest in the BioPACIFIC MIP Fellows program stems from my belief in the importance of collaborative and interdisciplinary research. Accordingly, I have pursued this interest in my own graduate career, as I am co-advised by faculty in both the Chemistry and Biochemistry and the Bioengineering departments at UCLA. This collaboration has motivated me to adopt an application-based approach towards basic science research that I aim to further explore by participating in the BioPACIFIC MIP Fellows program. Through this program, I hope to connect with a network of scientists and researchers who are similarly interested in bridging the gap between academia and industry through cross-departmental research. This is in line with my career interests, as I aim to pursue a career in the biotechnology sector following completion of my graduate studies. As such, I am especially interested in the professional development events. Additionally, I hope to hone my interpersonal and science communication skills by participating in various outreach opportunities. I believe that the BioPACIFIC MIP Fellows program would allow me to develop a holistic approach towards applied research and to better understand the connection between academia and industry.