Biomolecular engineering takes a molecular-level approach to provide new capabilities and solve problems in the life sciences. For example, Michigan chemical engineers are developing lab-on-a-chip devices to do genetic analysis and biomolecule synthesis. We are improving drug delivery and medical imaging by studying how molecules move and distribute throughout the body. We are also studying how proteins interact with DNA and how ligand molecules interact with cellular receptors.
Professor Maciek Antoniewicz and his group study biomolecular networks and interactions in complex living systems, such as natural and synthetic microbial communities. They develop novel tools to elucidate metabolic responses of cells to perturbations, quantify the behavior and cross-feeding interactions in microbiomes, and map dynamic regulatory events. The ultimate goal of these investigations is to develop quantitative understanding of how genes, proteins, and metabolites interact, how metabolic networks are regulated, and how they can be engineered or manipulated to achieve a desired outcome, for example, producing high-value biochemicals from renewable substrates, or cure diseases such as cancer and diabetes.
Professor Mark Burns and his group are developing lab-on-a-chip devices for genetic analysis, blood tests, and diagnosing influenza and bacterial infections. The group’s research focuses on innovative solutions to problems such as complex interconnect and packaging requirements of many pneumatically actuated analysis chips and bringing down the cost of the external optical and electronic systems needed to run them.
Professor Lola Eniola-Adefso and her group design particles that can navigate the bloodstream and home in on inflamed cells for targeted drug delivery and imaging. They use in vitro experimental setups to understand the receptor-ligand interactions involved in leukocyte firm arrest and transmigration. The group also designs sophisticated leukocyte mimetics that can target therapeutics to diseased vasculature via multiple receptor-ligand interactions with applications in cardiovascular disease and cancer.
During the past decade Professor Erdogan Gulari’s research group has developed new microfluidic systems and new chemistries to synthesize in a massively parallel fashion oligonucleotides or short genes and peptides on chips. These have led to the formation of several start-up companies in related areas. Currently the expertise developed in DNA synthesis is being used for making synthetic gene libraries and peptide libraries for sequencing, gene expression analysis, epitope arrays and discovery of new antimicrobial peptides for use as coatings, preservatives and candidates for new drugs.
Professor Joerg Lahann’s research interest is focused on the development of active, multi-functional bio-interfaces, which are applicable to a range of biomedical applications. His group’s recent advances in the molecular design of active nanostructures include the introduction of reactive coatings, reversibly switching surfaces and anisotropic nanoparticles that support the vision of smart interfaces and act as templates in time-controlled surface interactions.
Professor Ronald Larson and his group simulate drug-polymer interactions to improve drug release and delivery in the body. The group also develops methods for studying the interactions of proteins with DNA, which govern processes such as transcription. Artificial “nano-actuation” systems may be able to mimic the processes that proteins use to search DNA for their binding sites.
Professor Nina Lin’s research lies at the intersection of biology and engineering with a focus on microbial systems, particularly microbial communities, using systems biology and synthetic biology approaches. Her lab aims to employ engineering tools and skills such as microfluidics and quantitative modeling to help unlock mysteries of complex natural microbial communities, especially those closely associated with environment and health issues (e.g. human microbiome). In parallel, the research group exploits design principles nature utilizes and develops synthetic microbial consortia technologies to address critical needs faced by our society such as sustainable biofuel and chemical production.
Professor Jennifer Linderman and her group study cell signaling. In addition to understanding the mechanisms of cell signaling, the group is trying to establish the signaling events that lead to metastasis in breast cancer and untangle the interplay between immune cells and bacteria in tuberculosis infections.
Professor Sunitha Nagrath’s research focus is the development of advanced MEMS tools for understanding cell trafficking in cancer through isolation, characterization and study of circulating cell in peripheral blood of cancer patients. Her group works on isolating and studying rare cells from cancer patients. These studies will progress to the design and development of smart chips that use microfluidics and nanotechnology to make an impact in medicine and life sciences.
Professor Peter Tessier and his group aim to develop next generation technologies for designing, discovering, engineering, characterizing, formulating and delivering biologics ranging from small affinity peptides to large monoclonal antibodies for molecular imaging, diagnostic and therapeutic applications. They use a wide range of experimental and computational approaches to generate new fundamental insights related to protein structure and function, molecular origins of protein-protein interactions, and sequence and structural determinants of key protein properties (stability, solubility, specificity and affinity). With an eye toward applications, the Tessier lab also develops novel high-throughput screening tools for discovering new biologics and identifying rare variants with drug-like properties for therapeutic applications.
Professor Greg Thurber and his group study molecules used to image diseased tissue, such as tumors, Alzheimer’s plaques and arterial plaques. The same features that allow imaging molecules to target particular tissues can also be turned to targeted drug delivery. With a fundamental understanding of how molecules distribute in the body, the team can design better molecules for imaging and therapies.
Prof. Violi and her research group tackle a range of biological and medical research challenges that are data intensive and focused on the creation of novel methodologies to advance biomedical science discovery. The team studies the fundamental behaviors of proteins, their assembly mechanisms, as well as biological membranes and their interactions with drugs and nanomaterials. They are committed to the understanding of the microbial world with the objective of developing new nanomaterials to fight antimicrobial resistance. Tools of investigation include atomistic simulations, machine learning and data science.
To achieve cellular engineering goals of harnessing T-cells to fight disease and engineering microbes for making biofuel, Professor Fei Wen and her group use biomolecular methods such as genetic and protein engineering and protein-based nanoparticles.