Laboratory Overview

Our research projects involve elucidating the relationships between synthesis, structure, and function of natural and synthetic polymers. We synthesize polymers with controlled and unique structures, as well as modify naturally-occurring polymers to impart new functional behavior to more sustainable materials sources.

We are especially interested in controlling chemistry and properties of materials at biological interfaces to probe, and ultimately tailor, eukaryotic cell and protein responses. Broadly, we seek to advance fundamental knowledge of cell-cell, cell-material, and extracellular matrix-(ECM) material interfaces, with applications that include control over ECM deposition and organization (including fouling and anti-fouling surfaces), stem cell differentiation, and fibroblast and immune cell polarization. A few examples of our research efforts are described below.

Liquid Crystalline Gels and Elastomers as Biomaterials. These projects seek to design soft liquid crystalline networks (LCNs) with aqueous processability to 1) afford spatial and temporal control over mechanical and shape morphing properties, 2) permit incorporation of bioactives, and 3) enable advanced processing techniques, including 3D printing and cell encapsulation.

Materials that Modulate Inflammation and Protein Deposition with Applications in Surgical Healing and Chronic Disease States. These projects aim to design biomaterial surfaces that interface with a chronic inflammatory environment to mitigate human disease states by controlling specific interactions with cells, deposited proteins, and signaling molecules. Some of these projects involve the discovery of new synthetic tools to modify the functionality of silk fibroin, a protein biomaterial that lacks cell-instructive components yet has tremendous potential to tune properties through our ability to tailor its secondary structure.

Novel Shape Memory Elastomers for Gastrointestinal and Urological Healing. This work synthesizes degradable scaffolding materials for extensible tissues that support tissue growth and change shape over time in predictable ways. These materials are designed to support newly generated tissue when natural structures are not present due to trauma and/or disorders that present during development.

3D Printing of Hydrogels for Advanced Cell Culture Substrates. This work engineers new bioinks, including protein-based materials, with shear thinning properties that can be 3D printed by extrusion, gel quickly, and maintain a stable shape until degrading in a biocompatible manner. The methods and materials used enable printing of cellularized constructs for use as in vitro tissue models or as implantable constructs. Such investigations are important for the preparation of more relevant models of human tissues that may be used for drug discovery.



Contact Us

Phone: (860) 486-3133
Address: Institute of Materials Science
Attn: Kelly Burke
IMS 205B (Gant North 205B)
97 North Eagleville Road Unit 3136
Storrs, CT 06269-3136