Research

Nucleic Acid Delivery

The field of gene therapy and its potential to treat and cure specific genetic diseases has undergone unprecedented growth in the last decade. Recent breakthroughs in this area include the Nobel-Prize-winning CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing system, which is furthering the promise of gene therapy. A crucial step in the research and application of nucleic acid (DNA, RNA) therapies is the efficient delivery of therapeutic nucleic acids into cells or the nucleus of cells.

Our research group focuses on designing cationic, or positively charged, polymeric vehicles for the efficient delivery of nucleic acids into cells and tissues. Given that anionic nucleic acids cannot permeate cell membranes due to their size and electrostatic repulsion, our group focuses on the development of cationic delivery vehicles that can bind and encapsulate nucleic acids. For our research, we investigate structural parameters such as monomer design, chemical composition, and macromolecular architecture.

Sustainable Polymers

Plastics are an integral and necessary part of nearly every industry in modern society. However, the majority of these materials are petroleum-derived and non-degradable. This greatly contributes to plastic pollution and environmental distress worldwide. In addition, most of the plastics in use today do not support the goals of a sustainable circular economy. Sustainable development goals include using renewable, waste, or recycled feedstock in the design and development of new plastic materials that can be reprocessed, chemically recycled, or biodegraded at the end of its lifetime.

A primary goal of our research group is to use natural products and biomass such as sugars, seed oils, terpenes, and polysaccharides to develop monomers and polymers that will be used in the development and future manufacture of various types of plastics. In this process, we use green chemistry methods and target a more sustainable circular economy, often collaborating with academic and industrial partners.

Engineering Molecular Interactions

In nature, different types of molecules possess the property to self-assemble into functional materials. Understanding the mechanisms of self-assembly will enable the bottom-up design and modification of innovative materials as well as the improvement of material properties. Despite making great advances in this research space, scientists and engineers have not been able to reproduce nature’s efficient design standards. As such, there is a great need for continued research to better understand the molecular interactions of small molecules and polymers. Ultimately, this knowledge will enable chemists to develop functional materials for widespread application across areas including pharmaceutics, drug delivery, personal care products, food, fragrance, agrochemical, and chemical sensing applications.

Our lab studies how designer polymers formulated as amorphous solid dispersions aid the solubility and shelf-life stability of oral drug candidates, dictate nanodroplet formation and stability, and control the release of active pharmaceutical ingredients. We strive to identify the noncovalent polymer-drug interactions responsible for promoting the supersaturation of poorly water-soluble active pharmaceutical ingredients. We are also exploring new polymer chemistries and architectures to tune the dissolution and controlled release of a model drug.