We use engineering approaches to develop 1) new therapies that promote regeneration of brain and spinal cord tissues and 2) improved preclinical models of brain tumors.
A common theme across many central nervous system disorders, including spinal cord injury and cancer, is significant alterations to the extracellular matrix, such as changes in biochemical composition and structural mechanics of the tissue. A lack of understanding of how the extracellular matrix is fundamentally altered by injury or disease, and thus how these changes can be reversed to restore normal function, has been a major limitation to the development of new treatments. This gap in understanding is due to a shortage of tools available for investigating the unique extracellular environment in the central nervous system and its relationship to cell function. Thus, it is crucial to develop new platform tools in which to study these interactions and identify new clinical strategies. To address this need, my lab is developing biomimetic, hydrogel-based microenvironments with modular features that can be tuned to 1) quantify independent effects of various extracellular parameters on cell function and 2) provide a means for precise external control over cell function. Furthermore, we are developing methods for high-throughput monitoring of transcription factor activity in live cells cultured within these same biomaterial platforms. Acquisition of dynamic, high-throughput data from cells cultured in physiologically relevant conditions will provide key mechanistic insights into the progression of nervous system pathologies and, ultimately, identify new target pathways for regenerative therapies.