We are designing new materials such as nanofibers, gels, and nanoparticles that are capable of engaging the immune system, in order to treat a range of diseases and conditions. In one set of projects, we are designing new vaccines for diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, cancer, and influenza, none of which are currently treatable with highly effective, long-lasting vaccines. Other work is focused on designing gel materials for the delivery of cells and the healing of diseased or damaged tissues.
The immune system and the ways that a material can interact with it are complex. To address this complexity, we construct materials using molecular self-assembly. We design and synthesize proteins and peptides that have the ability to self-organize into particles, fibers, and gels, and we strive to create platforms where multiple different molecules can be arranged within these materials in a modular, mix-and-match style that allows us to systematically engineer them.
In parallel with our goal-oriented research aimed at developing new medical technologies, a considerable amount of our effort goes into understanding the basic mechanisms by which materials engage the adaptive immune system. Shedding light on the complex interactions between the immune system and biomaterials allows us to continually improve them.
Biomaterials immunology requires a highly multidisciplinary research approach, so all of our work is collaborative, relying on the expertise and energy of colleagues here at Duke and at several other US and international institutions.
Finally, our group strives to develop excellent scientists and engineers with the tools and creativity to tackle challenging multidisciplinary problems.
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Image credit: Peter Allen