Biomolecular engineering takes a molecular-level approach to provide new capabilities and solve problems in the life sciences. For example, Michigan chemical engineers are developing lab-on-a-chip devices to do genetic analysis and biomolecule synthesis. We are improving drug delivery and medical imaging by studying how molecules move and distribute throughout the body. We are also studying how proteins interact with DNA and how ligand molecules interact with cellular receptors.
Professor Mark Burns and his group are developing lab-on-a-chip devices for genetic analysis, blood tests, and diagnosing influenza and bacterial infections. The group's research focuses on innovative solutions to problems such as complex interconnect and packaging requirements of many pneumatically actuated analysis chips and bringing down the cost of the external optical and electronic systems needed to run them.
Professor Lola Eniola-Adefso and her group design particles that can navigate the bloodstream and home in on inflamed cells for targeted drug delivery and imaging. They use in vitro experimental setups to understand the receptor-ligand interactions involved in leukocyte firm arrest and transmigration. The group also designs sophisticated leukocyte mimetics that can target therapeutics to diseased vasculature via multiple receptor-ligand interactions with applications in cardiovascular disease and cancer.
During the past decade Professor Erdogan Gulari's research group has developed new microfluidic systems and new chemistries to synthesize in a massively parallel fashion oligonucleotides or short genes and peptides on chips. These have led to the formation of several start-up companies in related areas. Currently the expertise developed in DNA synthesis is being used for making synthetic gene libraries and peptide libraries for sequencing, gene expression analysis, epitope arrays and discovery of new antimicrobial peptides for use as coatings, preservatives and candidates for new drugs.
Professor Joerg Lahann's research interest is focused on the development of active, multi-functional bio-interfaces, which are applicable to a range of biomedical applications. His group's recent advances in the molecular design of active nanostructures include the introduction of reactive coatings, reversibly switching surfaces and anisotropic nanoparticles that support the vision of smart interfaces and act as templates in time-controlled surface interactions.
Professor Ronald Larson and his group simulate drug-polymer interactions to improve drug release and delivery in the body. The group also develops methods for studying the interactions of proteins with DNA, which govern processes such as transcription. Artificial "nano-actuation" systems may be able to mimic the processes that proteins use to search DNA for their binding sites.
Xiaoxia (Nina) Lin
Professor Nina Lin's research lies at the intersection of biology and engineering with a focus on microbial systems, particularly microbial communities, using systems biology and synthetic biology approaches. Her lab aims to employ engineering tools and skills such as microfluidics and quantitative modeling to help unlock mysteries of complex natural microbial communities, especially those closely associated with environment and health issues (e.g. human microbiome). In parallel, the research group exploits design principles nature utilizes and develops synthetic microbial consortia technologies to address critical needs faced by our society such as sustainable biofuel and chemical production.
Professor Jennifer Linderman and her group study cell signaling. In addition to understanding the mechanisms of cell signaling, the group is trying to establish the signaling events that lead to metastasis in breast cancer and untangle the interplay between immune cells and bacteria in tuberculosis infections.
Glycosylation, the modification of proteins by covalently-linked carbohydrates, is being increasingly recognized for its pivotal and varied roles in protein function. Glycans’ diverse structures enable their various effects on proteins and make them immensely difficult to study. Using computational methods, Professor Heather Mayes and her team uncover how small changes in carbohydrate structure can drastically change their effect on the proteins they modify, as well as how changes in protein structure affect their interactions with sugars. Uncovering the structure-function relationships that govern protein-sugar interactions will allow researchers to harness glycosylation as a powerful tool for biomolecular engineering.
Professor Sunitha Nagrath's research focus is the development of advanced MEMS tools for understanding cell trafficking in cancer through isolation, characterization and study of circulating cell in peripheral blood of cancer patients. Her group works on isolating and studying rare cells from cancer patients. These studies will progress to the design and development of smart chips that use microfluidics and nanotechnology to make an impact in medicine and life sciences.
Professor Andrew Putnam and his research group study the instructive role of the extracellular matrix (ECM) in the determination of cell fate, particularly on the role of matrix compliance (i.e., stiffness) and matrix remodeling during neovascularization. The team then seeks to leverage this fundamental knowledge to design instructive materials as synthetic ECMs for applications in regenerative medicine and as model systems in which to study disease.
Professor Greg Thurber and his group study molecules used to image diseased tissue, such as tumors, Alzheimer's plaques and arterial plaques. The same features that allow imaging molecules to target particular tissues can also be turned to targeted drug delivery. With a fundamental understanding of how molecules distribute in the body, the team can design better molecules for imaging and therapies.
Professor Angela Violi and her research group investigate the formation and fate of nanoparticles in the environment. In particular, the group develops computer models of the long-term interactions between nanoparticles and biological structures. The models will help predict potential harmful effects of nanoparticles and approaches for remediation.
To achieve cellular engineering goals of harnessing T-cells to fight disease and engineering microbes for making biofuel, Professor Fei Wen and her group use biomolecular methods such as genetic and protein engineering and protein-based nanoparticles.
Targeting disease with nanoparticles
Nanoparticles, which are popular candidates for ferrying drugs to target locations in the human body, have been shown to evade the immune system and infiltrate tissues and cells. But, Professor Lola Eniola-Adefeso and her team discovered they're no good at leaving the bloodstream, getting trapped instead by red blood cells. To combat that, the team is exploring the possibility of different shapes and sizes for these nanoparticles, to help them more effectively navigate to their targets.