Programming Cells with Materials: Extracellular Vesicle Biogenesis

Intercellular communication plays critical roles in development, maintaining tissue homeostasis/function, and when deregulated, in the progression of diseases such as cancer and neurodegeneration. It was thought that cell-cell contact and soluble factor release into the environment were the primary mechanisms by which cells communicated. However, more recently two broad classes of extracellular vesicles (EVs), including plasma membrane-derived microvesicles (MVs) and multivesicular body (MVB)-derived exosomes, has been identified as another form of intercellular communication with consequences in several physiological and pathological contexts. Each EV class is produced by virtually all cells and they bear unique characteristics but an understanding of the mechanisms that regulate EV biogenesis is lacking.

Cell-material interactions impact cellular function and the ability of integrins to engage the extracellular matrix can promote the EV production that generates unique responses in recipient cells. How this effect is mediated is unclear. We use human cells in culture and determine whether their ability to produce microvesicles is affected by the material properties of synthetic hydrogel substrates. For now we use astrocytes which make up a significant portion of glia in the central nervous system and play a critical role in maintaining, supporting, and protecting neurons. Our work focuses on cell-substrate interactions, as communicated by integrins' engagement with the hydrogel substrate, and their ability to modulate the cargoes and signal contained within the vesicles disseminated by astrocytes. On this project, you will make hydrogels, culture cells, and interrogate the differences in cell behavior and outputs to learn something about cell biology and create knowledge to inform future therapies.


Just after submitting your application in the URO system, schedule an interview with Professor Santana. Interviews will take place from November 16 - November 22. Sign up for a time labeled Research Interviews using this link.

Just prior to your interview, submit your application essay. Essay Prompt (~1 page, submitted via email to Professor Santana 24 hours prior to your scheduled interview): Why are you interested in working on this project? What skills do you hope to learn through this work? What skills do you bring to the group that support the project’s success? 


Name of research group, project, or lab
Santana Research Group
Why join this research group or lab?

As a member of this group, you would work on projects that collectively build knowledge at the intersection of fluid mechanics, bioengineering, and material engineering. Together, our work seeks to build tools and materials for evaluating biological function in benchtop models to uncover biological function.


Logistics Information:
Project categories
Biomedical Engineering
Biomedical Sciences
Materials Science
Student ranks applicable
Student qualifications

Students with a keen interest in bioengineering, biomedical engineering, cell biology, and human health are encouraged to apply.

Time commitment
Fall - Part Time
Spring - Part Time
Academic Credit
Number of openings
Techniques learned

Sterile cell culture, biological assays, microscopy, experimental design, data analysis

Contact Information:
Name of project director or principal investigator
Steven Santana
Email address of project director or principal investigator
1 sp. | 3 appl.
Hours per week
Fall - Part Time (+1)
Fall - Part TimeSpring - Part Time
Project categories
Engineering (+5)
BiologyChemistryEngineeringBiomedical EngineeringBiomedical SciencesMaterials Science