Welcome to the West Lab!
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Our research in biomaterials and tissue engineering involves the synthesis, development, and application of novel, biofunctional materials, and the use of biomaterials and engineering approaches to study biological problems. Ongoing projects in the West Lab include:
Biomimetic Hydrogels for Directing Cell and Tissue Growth
Biomimetic poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) hydrogels have physical properties that approximate those of the soft tissues of the body and offer physical and biochemical control that make them ideal substrates for many cell and tissue applications. In the West Lab, we use these materials in strategies to produce small diameter vascular grafts and bone, among other tissues. We are also investigating the influence of hydrogel material properties on a variety of cell types, including progenitor cells. Recent efforts have concentrated on developing materials that promote the development of a functional microvascular network so that more complex engineered tissues can be fabricated and then successfully integrated into the body.
Fabrication of Complex Biomaterial Surfaces
Patterned surfaces offer unique benefits for studying cell biology and especially in elucidating the mechanisms by which cells interact with each other and the components of their immediate surroundings. Our lab has implemented several novel surface fabrication strategies, including patterning of glass surfaces by laser scanning lithography (LSL), that allow us to generate complex arrays of different cell-reactive factors such as adhesion ligands and whole proteins. These materials present biological features in the nanoscale range, providing precise control over the physical interactions of cultured cells.
Medical Applications of Metal Nanoshells
Nanoshells are an exciting class of nanoparticles that possess tunable optical properties. For medical applications, these particles can be designed to strongly absorb or scatter light in the near infrared where tissue and blood are relatively transparent. In a cancer therapy application, nanoshells are designed to absorb light and convert the energy to heat for tumor destruction. By conjugating antibodies or peptides to the nanoshell surfaces, binding of nanoshells can be targeted to cancerous cells, and subsequent exposure to near infrared light results in specific and localized destruction of the cancerous cells. A photothermally modulated drug delivery system, optically-controlled valves for microfluidics devices, and a rapid whole blood immunoassay are a few of the other ways our lab is using nanoshells to address challenges in the medical and research communities.