All cells in the body are covered with sugars. Scientists call this collection of sugars the glycocalyx, a name literally meaning "sweet husk." Specific changes to the composition and organization of these sugars are linked to lethal cancers and other debilitating diseases, but we don’t fully know why.
Our group’s mission is to understand the biophysical functions of sugars with the hope that we can reprogram cells back to normal, healthy states by engineering cellular production of sugars and the ways in which cells organize these sugars. A parallel mission is to develop the infrastructure—custom-tailored experimental tools and computational models—necessary to propel the early stages of inquiry in biophysical glycoscience and glycoengineering.
We enjoy asking out-of-the-box questions. Can we “deflate” the glycocalyx to stop cancer cell spread or make cancer cells more susceptible to immune-cell therapies? Can we target the glycocalyx to silence cell-to-cell communication in cancer or to encourage communication for regenerative medicine? Does molecular crowding in the glycocalyx affect how cells perceive their surroundings? Can we program cell surface shapes and dynamics on demand through metabolic engineering? As part of a multi-lab initiative across the nation, we also hope to understand how diet and metabolism change the physical functioning of cells and tissues in cancer.
An important part of our mission includes translating our conceptual understanding and the "tricks" we learn for manipulating cells into useful biotechnologies and products for societal benefit. Applications include engineered polymer coatings for cells and cell-derived vesicles, genetically encoded polymers for drug delivery, and advanced biolubricants for arthritis, dry eye disease, surgical adhesions, and other important medical conditions.
Read more about our work through the links below.