Human-made biomaterials have the potential to unlock biological mysteries and transform human health. For a biomaterial to be useful, it must mimic the properties of living tissues and present cues to cells that generate a desired response (for example: to support loads, to grow, to produce a certain protein, to transform in some way, etc). A wide-range of materials are used in these applications and, in our shared work at HMC, we focus on soft tissue-models called hydrogels. Hydrogels are water-saturated polymer networks that are formed by mixing initially separate precursor-containing liquids to form solid materials (just like mixing resins when using epoxy). By precisely controlling the composition and volume of each precursor fluid, it is possible to engineer hydrogels whose bulk, macroscopic properties mimic those of living tissues. The problem, however, is that biological tissues do not have fixed, uniform properties throughout; instead, their properties vary as a function of space. Therefore, current hydrogel fabrication methods do not adequately capture the complexity of living tissues.
It is essential that hydrogel systems are made of tunable crosslinking agents with catalysts that can be used in a variety of situations. Recently oxime-mediated crosslinking of hydrogels has been on the rise due to oxime systems’ semi-reversibility and completely biocompaticle reagents and reaction byproducts. However, without the typical aniline catalyst this reaction will not proceed at neutral pH (which is important for biological systems). Aniline’s use as a catalyst is in itself problematic though as it is not particularly soluble in water and is somewhat cytotoxic. Through this project, we aim to synthesize, characterize, and evaluate a novel suite of aniline catalysts (poly(ethlyene glycol) modified aniline molecules) for the oxime reaction. These catalysts will be evaluated for their solubility in water, catalytic capabilities in oxime-meditated polymer crosslinking, and their biocompatibility.
Through this work, you will join a team that is working to create new biomaterials and polymerization mechanisms that are biocompatible! This work continues the work of a Mudd alum!
Check out this representative publication to learn more: https://doi.org/10.1039/C6TB03400D
Essay Prompt (~1 page total, due 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?
As a member of this group, you would work on projects that collectively build knowledge at the intersection of fluid mechanics, bioengineering, and material science and engineering. Together, our work seeks to build tools and materials for evaluating biological function in benchtop models to uncover biological function.