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 pathologies of central nervous system, including cancer and spinal cord injury, 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 may be reversed to restore normal function, has been a major limitation to the development of new treatments. My lab develops tools for investigating the unique extracellular environment in the central nervous system and its relationship to cell function. We use biomimetic, hydrogel-based microenvironments with modular features that can be tuned to quantify independent effects of various extracellular parameters over cell phenotype and behavior and, in turn, provide a means for precise external control over cell and tissue function. Furthermore, we are developing methods for high-throughput assays of live cells cultured within these same biomaterial platforms. Acquisition of dynamic, high-throughput data from cells cultured in physiologically relevant conditions will provide new insights into pathologies of the central nervous system and, ultimately, more effective therapies for these conditions.