McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine faculty member Steven Little, PhD, chair of the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, associate professor, and Bicentennial Alumni Faculty Fellow of the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, recently delivered a lecture in the 2012 Senior Vice Chancellor's Research Seminar series. The title of Dr. Little's presentation was "Medicine That Imitates Life through Biomimetic Drug Delivery."
Loosely defined, biomimetics is the emulation of biological elements or processes to solve human problems. The Little research group intends to reproduce the basic spatio-temporal information transfer that naturally occurs between the cells in our body to regulate biological form and function. Currently, such an aim is out of the reach of modern medicine.
However, it is now possible to engineer synthetic constructs that mimic the prose and context of cell-driven "communication," with the goal of inducing and/or regulating key biological processes. For example, using recent advances in the design of controlled release formulations, simple temporal control over the release of specific growth factors can induce robust formation of specific tissues that naturally regenerate. This concept can also be used to reproduce spatial information that cells—and tumors—employ to manipulate immunological responses.
Cells communicate a wealth of information during cell-cell contact through surface anisotropy (i.e., uniform patterns of discrete functional moieties). The Little lab has developed techniques to produce ordered patches of biological molecules on the surface of cell-sized microspheres, effectively creating a synthetic cellular synapse. Collectively, these new tools can effectively reproduce biological context and have already shown significant promise as next-generation medical treatments in a variety of disease models in which current medical treatments have failed.
The Senior Vice Chancellor's Research Seminar series is open to all interested University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University faculty, students, and staff.