Volgenau School of Engineering
George Mason University
George Mason University Mason
George Mason University

Biomaterials and Nanomedicine

New materials and biologically-inspired nano-designs are revolutionizing disease treatments.

We work with polymers, nanoparticles, lab-on-chip devices, and biologically-inspired designs to create novel systems that fulfill unmet needs in areas such as cancer, inflammatory disease, joint tissue repair, and next generation vaccines.

Our areas of expertise:

Bio-inspired nanoarchitectures for control of cell behavior

Nanoscale organization of bio-macromolecules on the cell membrane is crucial for numerous key biological mechanisms including antigen recognition by B-cell receptors as part of the adaptive immune response, pathogen entry into cells, and cell signaling.

We are developing biomimetic DNA nanoarchitectures to control the spatial organization of macromolecules and examine the role of antigen valency and organization in B-cell activation to further understand the macromolecular organization requirements needed for efficacious vaccines. We are also designing nanostructures that mimic the presentation of virus targeting moieties for efficient delivery of various therapeutic cargos. Principal investigator: Remi Veneziano.

Biomaterial-guided regenerative medicine

Caroline Hoemann, professor of bioengineering

Caroline Hoemann, professor of bioengineering, is researching how to use biomaterials to guide the immune system to heal bone fractures and fight infection.

Tissue repair is naturally initiated by a blood clot, which releases factors that attract innate immune cells to guide the healing response.

We use biomaterials to engineer the blood clot so that tissues can regenerate with more durable and functional structures. Biomaterials made of polysaccharides, chains of sugar units, can be used to alter cell migration—a type of inflammation—and increase the number of blood vessels that are attracted to a repairing wound.

We are investigating new methods to sense and predict the healing potential of complex bone fractures, as well as to predict whether certain individuals are at risk for infection or delayed healing of traumatic bone fractures. Our lab is also designing biomaterial implants that stimulate therapeutic inflammation and help treat damaged bone and soft tissues in the knee joint. Principal investigator: Caroline Hoemann.

Cancer immunotherapy and microfluidics

Immunotherapy has recently evolved as a novel personalized treatment against malignancies where the body’s own immune cells are engineered to detect and destroy cancer cells in the body. The cytotoxic ability of these specialized immune cells, also known as T-lymphocytes, is impaired or suppressed such that the cancer cells can evade their surveillance.

Genetically expressing a receptor for patient-specific tumor antigens on these T-cells allows them to recognize the cancer cells more effectively. However, this approach is complex and extremely expensive. In our lab, we are utilizing nanovesicles called liposomes to perform this manipulation and expansion of the T-cell population directly within the body. This will not only allow to make the therapy significantly inexpensive but also available to the broader population.

We are also developing unique lab-on-a-chip platforms for studying cell and disease functions in controlled environments established on a chip. We have developed a robust platform to artificially developed oxygen gradients mimicking hypoxic conditions within tumors. This is critical because hypoxic cells are more metastatic and drug resistant, and therefore investigating their behavior under physiological hypoxic conditions is crucial. Principal investigator: Nitin Agrawal.

mRNA delivery

Messenger RNA is a recent therapeutic modality with great promise in cancer, vaccines, and many other areas. The large size and sensitivity of this molecule to break down in body fluids requires packaging by a delivery agent that not only protects the payload but also releases it inside target cells. We develop new chemical entities that bind to mRNA to protect it and to allow transport through tissues to the target site and cell internalization followed by release and translation of the mRNA into the therapeutic protein or antigen. Principal investigator: Michael Buschmann.

Targeted nanoparticle-based delivery

This research investigates targeted nanoparticle-based delivery, which holds a great promise to revolutionize cancer treatment because of its personalized medicine ability. To achieve this goal, we must engineer nanocarriers taking into consideration several factors including extracellular and intracellular barriers. Also, the deep understanding of the formation of these nanocarriers is vital to acquire high control on both their internal and external characteristics. Equally important, the knowledge of the interaction between the nanocarriers and biological systems is critical to achieving an optimal therapeutic effect.

In our lab, we are developing novel polymer-based patchy cancer theranostics and molecular probes to diagnose better and treat different diseases including cancer. We have used an integrated experimental and computational approach to address batch control and scalability issues that will help us to accelerate the clinical translation of these nanocarriers. Furthermore, we design our nanovehicles based on critical medical needs identified by medical oncologists and diagnostic radiologists. Principal investigator: Carolina Salvador Morales.

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