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Biocomposite Materials Lab: Design, Fabrication, and Applications

The Pokorski Lab’s vision is to develop novel materials for biomedical applications by pursuing interdisciplinary research that combines chemistry, protein engineering and materials science. Our lab uses chemical synthesis, polymer processing and molecular biology to improve upon and introduce new functions into biomacromolecules. Students and postdoctoral fellows will learn a wide breadth of skills including small molecule, peptide, and polymer synthesis, molecular cloning and protein production, cell culture and polymer processing technologies.

Engineered Living Materials

The Pokorski lab works to develop methods to integrate engineered living matter with polymeric materials. In doing so, we  create new composite materials that are responsive to diverse stimuli and capable of generating complex, genetically encoded material outputs. Our long-term research goals are to develop techniques that will enable the creation of materials at the living/non-living interface, with the potential for use in biosynthetic electronics, chemical threat decontamination, therapeutic synthesis/delivery, and soft robotics, among other applications. To accomplish these goals, we will integrate genetically-modified photosynthetic organisms (e.g., cyanobacteria, plants, and algae) with polymeric materials through gel immobilization, patterning on flexible/elastomeric substrates, or deposition onto mechanically robust films. Within these materials, genes will be activated in response to a specific stimulus that will control material properties. Our  research goes beyond bio-mimetic or bio-inspired materials; living systems and polymeric materials will be synergized to achieve unprecedented control of material properties and function in the emerging area of engineered living materials. 

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Protein Composite Materials

The Pokorski lab is innovating the manufacture of slow-release protein/polymer depot formulations using traditional polymer processing tools. An inherent problem for advanced biomaterials is the lack of scalability, since most materials are fabricated using small-scale batch processes. This research focus uses traditional processing tools, like extrusion or injection molding, to fabricate slow-release protein/polymer blend devices. These devices can be in the form of microneedle patches, microparticles or implants depending on the therapeutic target. The ultimate vision for this research thrust is to develop protein delivery devices that are incredibly inexpensive, eliminate the cold-chain, can be self-applied and, most importantly, will improve therapeutic efficacy.  The future of this project is scale up of implants and patches using injection molding techniques that could be used to distribute vaccine devices in resource poor areas, most notably microneedle patches.

Protein/Polymer Hybrid Materials

Proteins are inherently rife with biological functions that can be exploited for therapeutic purposes. These include receptor binding for drug delivery, activation of signaling cascades, and enzyme replacement therapies. Proteins, however, suffer from limited drug loading capacity, circulation lifetime, and in vivo stabilities. Additionally, it is difficult to incorporate full-length proteins into soft materials. Our lab explores the synthesis of novel protein:polymer conjugates to address these problems chemically. Projects in this area range from targeted nanoparticle drug delivery to tissue engineering and regenerative medicine.

Nanofibers for Regenerative Medicine

The Pokorski lab has been at the forefront of developing coextruded polyester nanofibers as scalable biomaterials. Nanofibrous materials have seen great success in myriad biological applications from drug delivery to advanced bandages, however, few materials derived from nanofibers have been translated to practice. We posit that this is likely due to low throughput manufacturing processes. In collaboration with CLiPS, we have developed a melt-based process to fabricate polymer nanofibers using multi-layered coextrusion and have modified the materials with peptides, proteins, and chemotherapeutics. So far, we have used these materials as platforms for cell differentiation, anti-fouling filters, and advanced bandages. Currently we are exploring stem-cell response under dynamic and responsive mechanical and biochemical conditions. 

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