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NameEmailPhD ProgramResearch InterestPublications
Freeman, Ronit
WEBSITE
EMAIL
PUBLICATIONS

PHD PROGRAM
Applied Physical Sciences, Biomedical Engineering, Chemistry

RESEARCH INTEREST
Biomaterials, Biophysics, Cancer Biology, Cell Biology, Cell Signaling, Drug Delivery, Drug Discovery, Nanomedicine, Translational Medicine

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.

Fenton, Owen

EMAIL
PUBLICATIONS

PHD PROGRAM
Pharmaceutical Sciences

RESEARCH INTEREST
Biomaterials, Drug Delivery, Drug Discovery, Nanomedicine, Translational Medicine

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.

Benhabbour, Rahima
WEBSITE
EMAIL
PUBLICATIONS

PHD PROGRAM
Pathobiology & Translational Science

RESEARCH INTEREST
Biomaterials, Drug Delivery, Nanomedicine, Pharmacology

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.

Li, Zibo
WEBSITE
EMAIL
PUBLICATIONS

PHD PROGRAM
Biochemistry & Biophysics, Chemistry

RESEARCH INTEREST
Biochemistry, Drug Delivery, Drug Discovery, Molecular Medicine, Nanomedicine

My research has focused on developing new radio-chemistry, imaging probes, and therapeutic approaches including nanomedicine for various diseases. Most importantly, we have the culture of forming an active collaboration with people in different field. With a cGMP lab located within our facility, we are also experienced on developing lead agents and translate it to clinic.

Rizvi, Imran
WEBSITE
EMAIL
PUBLICATIONS

PHD PROGRAM
Toxicology

RESEARCH INTEREST
Cell Biology, Cell Signaling, Drug Delivery, Molecular Biology, Nanomedicine, Pharmacology, Toxicology, Translational Medicine

Dr. Rizvi’s expertise is in imaging and therapeutic applications of light, bioengineered 3D models and animal models for cancer, and targeted drug delivery for inhibition of molecular survival pathways in tumors. His K99/R00 (NCI) develops photodynamic therapy (PDT)-based combinations against molecular pathways that are altered by fluid stress in ovarian cancer. He has co-authored 46 peer-reviewed publications and 5 book chapters with a focus on PDT, biomedical optics, and molecular targeting in cancer.

Button, Brian
WEBSITE
EMAIL
PUBLICATIONS

PHD PROGRAM
Biochemistry & Biophysics

RESEARCH INTEREST
Biochemistry, Biomaterials, Biophysics, Cell Biology, Cell Signaling, Drug Delivery, Drug Discovery, Nanomedicine, Pathology, Physiology, Systems Biology, Translational Medicine

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.

Knight, Abigail
WEBSITE
EMAIL
PUBLICATIONS

PHD PROGRAM
Chemistry

RESEARCH INTEREST
Biochemistry, Biomaterials, Nanomedicine

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.

Liu, Rihe
WEBSITE
EMAIL
PUBLICATIONS

PHD PROGRAM
Pharmaceutical Sciences

RESEARCH INTEREST
Biochemistry, Biophysics, Cell Signaling, Chemical Biology, Nanomedicine

The research interests of the Liu Lab are in functional proteomics and biopharmaceuticals. Currently we are working on the following projects:  (1). Using systems biology approaches to decipher the signaling pathways mediated by disease-related proteases such as caspases and granzymes and by post-translationally modified histones. We address these problems by performing functional protein selections using mRNA-displayed proteome libraries from human, mouse, Drosophila, and C. elegans. (2). Developing novel protein therapeutics and nucleic acid therapeutics that can be used in tumor diagnosis, treatment, and nanomedicine. We use various amplification-based molecular evolution approaches such as mRNA-display and in vivo SELEX to develop novel single domain antibody mimics on the basis of very stable protein domains or to generate aptamers on the basis of nuclease-resistant nucleic acids, that bind to important biomarkers on the surface of cancer cells. We further conjugate these biomarker-binding affinity reagents to small molecule drugs or nanoparticles for targeted delivery of therapeutic agents. (3). Identifying the protein targets of drugs or drug candidates whose action mechanisms are unknown. We combine molecular proteomic and chemical biology approaches to identify the protein targets of drugs whose target-binding affinities are modest.

Gershon, Timothy R.
WEBSITE
EMAIL
PUBLICATIONS

PHD PROGRAM
Cell Biology & Physiology, Neuroscience

RESEARCH INTEREST
Bioinformatics, Cancer Biology, Developmental Biology, Metabolism, Nanomedicine, Neurobiology

As a pediatric neurologist and brain tumor researcher, I seek to understand the link between brain growth and childhood brain tumors. My lab focuses on in vivo studies of the normal process of postnatal neurogenesis and the pathologic process of brain tumor growth, using mice genetically engineered to develop medulloblastoma. Our in vivo approach allows us to study how metabolism, apoptosis regulation and cell cycle control contribute to development and tumor formation. Through a long-term collaboration with Drs. Alexander Kabanov and Marina Sokolsky in the Eshelman School of Pharmacy, we are using insight from tumor biology to develop new, nanoparticle-delivered treatments for medulloblastoma, which we then test in our in vivo models. Most recently, we have used single-cell transcriptomic analysis (scRNA-seq) to understand how these treatments impact brain tumors, growing in vivo.
I am strongly interested in developing the next generation of brain tumor scientists by mentoring graduate students and undergraduates in my lab. To enhance graduate student teaching in my lab, I have completed UNC-sponsored training in Mentoring and Unconscious Bias. I work to build an inclusive laboratory environment in which diverse perspectives are valued and contribute to our progress.

DeSimone, Joseph M.
WEBSITE
EMAIL
PUBLICATIONS

PHD PROGRAM
Chemistry, Pharmacology

RESEARCH INTEREST
Biomaterials, Cancer Biology, Nanomedicine, 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 jluft@email.unc.edu.