Research Projects

Interactive Biomaterials REU Program

Research Projects:  Please select your top 5 projects (ranked 1 to 5 on your application)

Project #1 (Makhlynets)
Title: Stimuli-responsive biomaterials for wound healing
Project Description: The goal of this project is to design smart, stimuli-responsive biocompatible antimicrobial materials that can change their properties in response to changes in redox state and pH. If successful, this project will transform the field of stimuli-responsive hydrogel design and how we approach wound care. Toward this goal, I propose to design two classes of stimuli-responsive materials with self-healing properties: 1) redox-sensitive peptide hydrogels using Cu(II) as a crosslinker, this hydrogel would dissolve upon reduction of copper; 2) pH- responsive hydrogel using Ca(II) as a crosslinker to deliver fibroblast cells into wound bed. We will use a novel approach based on coordination chemistry to 1) introduce non-covalent crosslinks into the materials to generate self-healing hydrogels that could be delivered into wounds via syringe and 2) make materials respond to redox potential and pH. We already have both materials in the lab and currently working on improving and characterizing them.

Olga Makhlynets, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Department of Chemistry
Syracuse University

Project #2 (Patteson)
Title:Biomechanics of biofilm development,
Project Description: Most bacteria live in surface-dwelling multi-cellular colonies known as biofilms. Biofilm growth is widely regarded to depend on physical properties of the underlying substrate, such as substrate stiffness and porosity. Here, we will use synthetic polyacrylamide hydrogels with tunable stiffness and controllable pore size to assess the effects of substrate mechanics on biofilm development. We will use time-lapse microscopy and automatic tracking code to track the growth and form of expanding biofilms of Serratia marcescens. The results will inform models of bacteria transport and provide new principles for designing antifouling materials.
Alison Patteson, Ph.D. (she/her)
Assistant Professor
Department of Physics
Syracuse University

Project #3 (Monroe)
Title:  Shape Memory Polymer Foam Hydrogels for Crohn’s Fistulas
Project Description: 
Crohn’s disease can lead to fistula formation between portions of the urinary, reproductive, and digestive systems. An estimated 20% of fistula patients ultimately require bowel resections following surgery. To meet this clinical need, we have synthesized a degradable shape memory polymer (SMP) hydrogel foam system for fistula closure and healing. This project focuses on incorporation of drug delivery vehicles into the hydrogel system to provide localized immunosuppressant release. Following incorporation, drug release profiles will be characterized throughout the hydrogel degradation process.

Mary Beth Monroe, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Department of Biomedical and Chemical Engineering
Syracuse University

Project #4 (Jain)
Title: Temporally controlled sequential delivery of biomolecules for treatment of inflammatory joint diseases.
Project Description:  Abstract: Multiple joint diseases, including arthritis, gout or tempromndibular disorder, presents a bimodal disease pattern of inflammation leading to dysregulation of catabolic and anabolic factors responsible for joint health. To restore metabolic balance, several therapies have relied on use of potent anabolic growth factors like insulin like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) and transforming growth factor beta (TGF-β3) with limited therapeutic effect. Limited success of growth-factor based therapies can be possibly due to the presence of pro-inflammatory factors which can blunt cell response to anabolic factors. Programed delivery system for sequential release of a small anti-inflammatory drug and anabolic growth factors can overcome this limitation and enhance therapeutic effect of growth factors. Sequential delivery, in contrast to co-delivery, of the cytokines can help prime cellular responses to the incoming growth factor. We will design polyethylene glycol (PEG) based core shell microspheres to allow for sequential drug release (Figure 1). The degradation rate and physical properties of core and shell forming polymers will be differentially controlled to regulate the drug release from the core and shell. The studies will aim at optimizing different process parameters including size of the microspheres, differential release kinetics of the encapsulated biomolecules, maintenance of the bio-activity of encapsulated drug and drug loading efficiency. The effect of sequential release on cellular response will be tested in appropriate in vitro models of cultured chondrocytes.
Role of REU student in the project: The REU student will be responsible for fabrication and characterization of biodegradable PEG hydrogels for encapsulation and controlled release of anabolic growth factor and small anti-inflammatory molecules. Choice of appropriate PEG hydrogel composition degrading at different rates will be important in controlling the release sequence of the two molecules. Using Michael-type addition of thiol-acrylate the REU student will generate a library of PEG hydrogel with differential degradation rate. Further, the student will encapsulate and evaluate release rate of the two biomolecules from a combination of PEG hydrogels. The hydrogels compositions yielding desired release rates will be used to form core-shell microspheres of desired size and configuration by coaxial electrospraying.

Era Jain, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Biomedical & Chemical Engineering
BioInspired Syracuse: Institute for Material and Living Systems
Syracuse University

Project #5 (You)
Title:  Interactions between plastics and environmental microbiomes
Project Description:  Globally, more than 300 million tons plastics are produced annually, and a significant portion of plastic products enter the built environment such as wastewater treatment facilities and landfills. While plastic products could degrade into microplastics (polymer particles with < 5 mm diameters) in those environments, the majority of (micro)plastics remain unrecycled and eventually enter the aquatic environment, resulting in 15–51 trillion floating plastic particles circulating in the marine environment. In both terrestrial and aquatic environments, plastics and MPs constitute a unique habitat (the “plastisphere”) where diverse microbial species could form biofilms and synergize to thrive. This project aims to investigate environmental microbiomes (microbial communities and their metagenomes) adapted to various plastispheres and explore their plastic degradation metabolic potentials. To that end, the participant student will have opportunities to carry out bench work and bioinformatic analysis, in order to collect plastisphere-associated microbiomes, characterize plastic degradation, and probe molecular mechanisms.

Yaqi You, Ph.D. (pronouns she/her/hers)
Assistant Professor,
Environmental Resources Engineering
SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry
Lab website:

Project #6 (Ren)
Title: Engineering antifouling materials to improve the safety of medical devices.
Project Description: Millions of medical devices are implanted in humans each year to repair failing body parts and/or provide essential functions. Unfortunately, these abiotic materials are susceptible to microbial colonization that leads to chronic antibiotic resistant infections. During this summer, the REU student will work with other group members to investigate how material properties (especially surface topography) affect bacterial attachment and how to design antifouling materials. The student will learn knowledge and experiment skills of material preparation, micro-patterning, bacterial culturing, and imaging.

Dacheng Ren, Ph.D.
Stevenson Endowed Professor
Department of Biomedical and Chemical Engineering
Syracuse University

Project #7 (Pepling)
Title: The role of cell adhesion in mouse oocyte development.
Project Description: The reproductive lifespan of the mammalian female is determined by the time of birth. Essential for fertility is the establishment of a finite pool of primordial follicles, or oocytes that are surrounded by a layer of somatic cells called granulosa cells. During primordial follicle formation which occurs perinatally, clusters of oocytes separate into individual cells. Cell adhesion molecules are expressed in the mouse ovary during this process. E-cadherin is expressed in oocytes and its proposed role is to keep oocytes in clusters prior to primordial follicle formation. E-cadherin must then be down regulated for primordial follicle formation to occur. To test this idea, function blocking antibodies against E-cadherin will be used in mouse ovary organ culture. After culture, ovaries will be labeled with an oocyte marker and analyzed by confocal microscopy.

Melissa Pepling, Ph.D.
Department of Biology
Syracuse University

Project #8 (Movileanu)
Title: “Bioengineered nanopores for single-molecule detection”
Project Description: This project is aimed at designing, developing, optimizing, and validating bioinspired pore-based nanostructures for sampling protein-protein interactions at single-molecule precision. These studies will involve techniques of protein engineering and high-resolution electrical recordings through single biological nanopores.

Liviu Movileanu, Ph.D.
Department of Physics
Syracuse University

Project #9 (Mozhdehi)
Title: Genetically Encoded Lipidation to Manipulate the Structure, Assembly, and Phase Behavior of Proteins
Project Description: Post-translational modification (PTM) of proteins, e.g., lipidation, enable cells to regulate the spatiotemporal flow of life-sustaining matter, energy, and information. Our understanding of the biophysical consequences of modifying proteins with lipids—and how lipids regulate protein conformation, function, and signaling—is incom¬plete. Addressing these questions would enable parsing the contribution of lipidated proteins to biological mechanisms and exploiting their untapped potential as biomaterials/therapeutics. Participants in this project will work with an interdisciplinary team at the interface of chemistry, biotechnology, and materials science. For relevant publications, please visit our website at

Davoud Mozhdehi (Dave Moz), Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Department of Chemistry
Syracuse University

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