Research Summary

Functional nano-scale materials are receiving increasing attention for a broad array of biomedical and biotechnological applications, including immunotherapy, personalized medicines, regenerative medicine, and disease prophylaxis. Throughout living systems, self-assembly of different biomolecules into multi-component assemblies gives rise to functional nano-scale materials that can perform complex tasks with unprecedented efficiency. Inspired by these observations, our research establishes strategies to create nanomaterials with precisely defined and easily interchangeable composition of functional components using self-assembly. In one application, we have developed recombinant fusion “assembly tags” to install biologically active protein domains into peptide nanofibers that form injectable gels. In a second application, we have developed a strategy to create nanofibers with tailored composition of carbohydrates as the basis for synthetic mimics of extracellular matrix glycoproteins. The utility of this technology is illustrated by creating nanofibers that can modulate the activity of galectins, a family of carbohydrate-binding extracellular signaling proteins. Finally, we develop strategies to anchor biotherapeutics, such as enzymes, to specific tissue locations by engineering them to bind to abundant tissue carbohydrates. Together, these approaches demonstrate the potential of harnessing self-assembly to create nano-scale biomaterials with multi-functional properties that can be easily and precisely tailored according to application- or disease-specific needs.

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