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We have several areas of research interest broadly in the area of immunomodulation using micro/nanoparticles and other carrier systems.  This can include development of traditional vaccines, therapeutic autoimmune vaccines and classic drug delivery platforms targeted to bacterial, viral or parasitic host cells.  To this end, we also seek to develop new materials and platforms optimal for use in modulating immune responses as well as developing scalable production of micro/nanoparticles.

Our research focuses on both fundamental and applied study of soft materials and nanomaterials, develop fabrication approaches to enable hybrid integration of multi-materials towards high-performance electronic and photonic systems, innovate new technology that can intelligently immerse electronics and photonics into biological systems, and create new tools and devices to address unmet clinical needs and improve human healthcare. Our lab fosters a collaborative environment that converges expertise/interests from various backgrounds including materials science and engineering, electrical engineering, physics, chemical engineering, mechanical engineering, and biomedical engineering. We provide hands-on learning, enjoy making practical tools, and aspire to transform scientific advancements into societal solutions.

Dr. Benhabbour’s academic research focuses on development of novel tunable delivery platforms and polymer-based devices to treat or prevent a disease. Her work combines the elegance of organic and polymer chemistry with the versatility of engineering and formulation development to design and fabricate efficient and translatable nanocarriers and drug delivery systems for cancer treatment and HIV prevention.

Dr. Benhabbour has also Founded her startup company Anelleo, Inc. (AnelleO) in 2016 to develop the first 3D printed intravaginal ring as a platform technology for women’s health.

Current technologies in development in Dr. Benhabbour’s Lab include:
– 3D Printed intravaginal ring technology: A) Multipurpose prevention technology (MPT) for prevention of HIV/STIs and unplanned pregnancy.
– Polymer based ultra-long-acting injectable implant for HIV prevention and treatment.
– Combinatory chitosan/cellulose nanocrystals thermoresponsive hydrogel system: A) Sub-Q or intraosseous injectable for treatment of osteoporosis; B) Bio-ink for 3D bioprinting; C) Scaffold for stem cell delivery (e.g. iNSCs for treatment of post-surgical glioblastoma.
– Mucoadhesive thin film for treatment of vulvodynia.
– Targeted nanoparticles and hydrogel scaffolds for treatment of NSCLC.

The Button lab in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics is part of the Marsico Lung Institute. Our lab is actively involved in projects that are designed to define the pathogenesis of muco-obstructive pulmonary disorders and to identify therapies that could be used to improve the quality of life in persons afflicted by these diseases. In particular, our research works to understand the biochemical and biophysical properties of mucin biopolymers, which give airway mucus its characteristic gel-like properties, and how they are altered in diseases such as Asthma, COPD, and cystic fibrosis.

DeSimone, Joseph M.
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Chemistry, Pharmacology

The direct fabrication and harvesting of monodisperse, shape-specific nano-biomaterials are presently being designed to reach new understandings and therapies in cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment.  Students interested in a rotation in the DeSimone group should not contact Dr. DeSimone directly.  Instead please contact Chris Luft at

The broad aim of research in the Fenton Laboratory is to develop and evaluate synthetic drug delivery platforms to treat neurodegenerative disorders in the brain using RNA therapeutics. RNA therapeutics represent a particularly promising class of therapeutics for neurodegenerative management given their ability to tune levels of specific protein expression in living systems. For example, protein downregulation can be achieved by administering short interfering RNAs (siRNAs); alternatively, proteins can be upregulated by messenger RNA (mRNA) administration. Despite this promise, fewer than 0.05% of the world’s clinically approved drugs are RNA therapeutics, and their translation to neurodegenerative disorders in the brain warrants further study at the fundamental and clinical levels.

To address these challenges, our group focuses on the discovery and development of molecular carriers and technology platforms to improve the targeting, safety, and efficacy of RNA drugs within target cells. Specifically, our group leverages an interdisciplinary approach to develop lipid nanoparticles (LNP) as well as soft matter hydrogel platforms that can serve as carrier systems and/or drug delivery models for RNA drugs. Further, our group also explores the development of technological platforms to further expand the potential of RNA drugs within resource limited settings. Lastly, given that mRNA drugs can be engineered to encode for virtually any polypeptide or protein based antigen, our group also aims to leverage our platformable LNP technologies for the study and prevention of cancers and infectious disease. In undertaking such an approach, the goal of our research is to equip students with fundamental skillsets for the development of next generation drugs while simultaneously developing clinically-relevant carrier platforms and technologies for the study, prevention, and treatment of human disease.

Research interests include: transport processes in the lung, flow and structure of nano-materials & macromolecular fluids, weakly compressible transport phenomena, solitons and optical fiber applications, inverse problems for material characterization and modeling of transport in multiphase porous media.

My lab focuses on developing bioinspired molecular constructs and material platforms that can mimic proteins and be programmed to respond to stimuli resulting from biomolecular recognition. Major efforts are directed to design peptide- and nucleic acid-based scaffolds or injectable nanostructures to create artificial extracellular matrices that can directly signal cells.

Imagine a naturally intelligent therapy that can seek out and destroy cancer cells like no other available treatment.  In the Hingtgen Lab, we are harnessing Nobel Prize-winning advancements to create a new type of anti-cancer treatment: personalized stem cell-based therapies.  We use a patient’s own skin sample and morph it into cells that chase down and kill cancer. We take advantage of a little-known aspect of stem cells- they can home in on cancer by picking up a signal through receptors on the cell surface. All the while, the therapeutic stem cells are pumping out potent anti-cancer drugs that selectively kill any cancer cell nearby while leaving the healthy brain unharmed. Our initial studies focused on aggressive brain cancers, however we quickly expanded our testing to a variety of cancer types. Working at the interface of basic science and human patient testing, our ultimate goal is to translate this novel approach into the clinical setting where it can re-define treatment for cancers that currently have no effective treatment options.

Knight, Abigail
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The Knight group focuses on designing novel macromolecular materials with functions inspired by biological systems. These materials will generate platforms of new biomimetic polymeric architectures addressing growing concerns in treating, diagnosing, and preventing human disease. This research bridges the fields of chemical biology and polymer chemistry using characterization and synthetic tools including polymer and solid-phase synthesis and nanomaterial characterization. Specific project areas include: (1) developing a new class of peptide-polymer amphiphiles inspired by metalloproteins, (2) designing well-defined polymer bioconjugates for biosensing, and (3) evolving functional biomimetic polymers.

Our dynamic group are broadly involve in three topics: (i) prevention of infectious diseases by harnessing interactions between secreted antibodies and mucus, (ii) immune response to biomaterials, and (iii) targeted delivery of nanomedicine.  Our group was the first to discover that secreted antibodies can interact with mucins to trap pathogens in mucus.  We are now harnessing this approach to engineer improved passive and active immuniation (i.e. vaccines) at mucosal surfaces, as well as understand their interplay with the mucosal microbiome.  We are also studying the adaptive immune response to polymers, including anti-PEG antibodies, and how it might impact the efficacy of PEGylated therapeutics.  Lastly, we are engineering fusion proteins that can guide targeted delivery of nanomedicine to heterogenous tumors and enable personalized medicine.

Life is animate and three-dimensional.  Our lab develops tools to better understand living specimens at single molecule, cellular, and tissue level length scales.  Our current efforts comprise three synergistic research areas: 1) development and application of novel fluorescent imaging modalities including: super resolution, light sheet, and adaptive optical microscopy 2) investigation of how mechanical forces and cytoskeletal dynamics drive cancer cell migration through complex three-dimensional environments, and 3) generation of microfabricated platforms to precisely control the cellular microenvironment for tissue engineering and drug screening.

MacDonald, Jeffrey
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Dr. Macdonald is the Founder and Scientific Director of the new Metabolomic Facility and Co-Scientific Director of the joint UNC/NCSU/NOAA Marine MRI facility at Pivers Island near Beaufort NC. Dr. Macdonald’s research goal is to combine metabolomics and tissue engineering and apply these tools to quantitative biosystem analysis.

We are interested in the physics of soft and squishy materials, especially the organization and mechanics of living cellular materials. We use theory and simulation in close collaboration with experiments to understand the complex structural and mechanical behavior of these systems. These questions and our approach to them are interdisciplinary and intersect several traditional fields, including cell biology, biophysics, fluid dynamics and applied mathematics.

The Nguyen lab develops the next generation of effective and safe biotherapeutics for life-threatening diseases such as cancer and myocardial infarction. We engineer novel immunomodulatory carriers based on genetically encoded materials and lipids that home to the site of disease, respond to changes in the microenvironment, and effectively deliver nucleic acids and drugs.

Our lab is broadly interested in utilizing high resolution 3D printing to develop novel drug delivery carriers for the treatment of cancer and infectious diseases. Current research interests lay in manufacturing biodegradable porous hydrogel scaffold implants for cell/drug delivery for the treatment of recurrent brain cancer. We are actively investigating biomaterial properties for passive cell/drug loading into scaffolds as well as developing materials and methods to support conjugation strategies for actuated release mechanisms.

The Polacheck Lab develops microfluidic and organ-on-chip technology for disease modeling and regenerative medicine. Our efforts are organized around three primary research thrusts: 1) Developing humanized microphysiological models for inherited and genetic disorders; 2) Defining the role of biofluid mechanics and hemodynamics on the cellular microenvironment; 3) Understanding the role of cell-cell adhesion in the generation and propagation of cellular forces during morphogenesis. We further work to translate the technology and techniques developed in our lab into tissue engineered therapies for organ replacement and regenerative medicine.

Superfine’s group studies stimulus-responsive active and living materials from the scale of individual molecules to physiological tissues, including DNA, cells and microfluidic-based tissue models. We develop new techniques using advanced optical, scanning probe, and magnetic force microscopy. We pursue diverse physiological phenomena from cancer to immunology to mucus clearance in the lung. Our work includes developing systems that mimic biology, most recently in the form of engineered cilia arrays that mimic lung tissue while providing unique solutions in biomedical devices.

The Yan lab works at the interface of material science, photonics, and biology. We synthesize metal, metal oxide and upconversion nanoparticles for biophotonics and biomedicine applications. We use holographic optical tweezers and atomic force microscope (AFM) to trap and manipulate single nanoparticles, and use them as probes to study nano-bio interactions, including biosensing, bionanomechanics and cell biology. We conduct these studies with a customized multi-modal correlative optical system that combines the nanomanipulation module with advanced optical microscopy and spectroscopy techniques.