The Reineke Group specializes in the synthetic design, chemical characterization, and biological study of sophisticated macromolecules.
Synthetic materials play important roles in everyday life, from the diagnosis and treatment of diseases to the advancement of renewable materials and commercial products. Consequently, understanding how polymers affect living systems fundamentally and govern macroscopic functionality remains vital to solving pressing problems in today’s biomedical and sustainability landscapes. The Reineke Research Group seeks to discover novel polymeric vehicles and strategies to (i) safely deliver nucleic acids and drugs, (ii) impart enhanced material performance with sustainable feedstocks, and (iii) elucidate cellular-level mechanisms in biomaterials.
Our research efforts are interdisciplinary in nature and encompass the areas of chemistry, chemical biology, materials science, and engineering. Click on a subject area below to learn more about our goals and ongoing projects.
Nucleic Acid Delivery
The wealth of information being obtained from genomic, proteomic, and glycomic research is allowing researchers to unravel the intricate genetic and epigenetic mechanisms associated with human health and disease. Ubiquitous tools such as miRNA (microRNA), siRNA (small interfering RNA), oligodeoxynucleotide (ODN) transcription factor decoys, plasmid DNA, aptamers, genetic vaccines, and many other polynucleotide forms are transforming the methods of regulating gene expression and epigenetic mechanisms for understanding biological processes, disease pathways, and are undergoing extensive research and development as novel therapeutics.
Nucleic acids have exceptional affinity and specificity for their intracellular targets; yet, many complex factors dictate the accuracy, reproducibility, and relevance of utilizing polynucleotides as novel therapeutics. Delivery systems are needed to compact nucleic acids into nanostructures, termed polyplexes, that can enter cells, protect nucleic acids from enzymatic damage, and provide the
possibility of targeting the delivery to specific tissue types and sites within the cell.
We strive to creatively design innovative polymeric vehicles for delivering gene regulatory nucleic acids and develop new experimental methods to gain a fundamental understanding of their interactions and pathways taken within living systems in a spatial and temporal manner. We have developed several novel carbohydrate-containing polymers that have shown outstanding affinity to form polyplexes and facilitate intracellular nucleic acid delivery efficiency with low toxicity. We are concerned with the design, synthesis, and biological characterization as well as with the examination of the mechanism of delivery of polymers.
Sustainable Polymer Development
The majority of plastics we use in our day-to-day lives are sourced from petroleum, which is both non-renewable and non-sustainable. As a contributing group in the Center for Sustainable Polymers (CSP), we strive to develop monomers and polymers from sustainable resources. Research projects in this area are highly collaborative with other research groups in the Center.
Sustainable polymer projects in our group are natural extensions of our group’s other projects. Often in our group, drug delivery vehicles employ carbohydrates in their polymer structures. Carbohydrates represent a key feedstock for green materials development, as they are the most widely available renewable resource. The sustainable polymers we develop are designed to exhibit low toxicity while being biodegradable; key characteristics of biomaterials and desired properties for sustainable plastics. Consequently, the understanding of sustainable polymers is central towards the development of biomaterials that will enable our group to enter other therapeutic areas.
We are dedicated towards understanding the synthesis, development, and properties of sustainable polymers.
Polymeric Drug Delivery Agents
The development of delivery vehicles to increase the solubility, bioavailability, and tolerance of active pharmaceuticals is a large area of interest in polymer science and the biomedical community. For example, some of the most potent antitumor drugs have very low solubility and, in turn, have low bioavailability for proper treatment. To this end, several types of drug delivery vehicles have been developed over the years such as polymer micelles, polymersomes, and various block and statistical copolymer structures to encapsulate hydrophobic drugs to increase drug potency.
In the field of cancer treatment alone, polymer-based nanomaterials have promise to revolutionize treatment efficacy by increasing chemotherapeutic uptake and specificity. Macromolecular materials can be linked to selective targeting signals that promote delivery only to the site of disease therefore helping to decrease the unwanted side effects of chemotherapy.
The overarching goal of this project is to develop new polymer-drug conjugates and understand the molecular interactions that dictate macromolecular/supramolecular assembly of these new materials into nano- and micro-architectures. The structure-activity relationships of the polymer-drug conjugates are being studied in detail in an effort to enable rational design of efficient and modular drug delivery systems.