Eric Andrew Appel
2016 Hellman Fellow
Assistant Professor, School of Engineering, Materials Science and Engineering
Project Title: “Supramolecular Biomaterials for Advanced Healthcare Solutions”
Chronic disease (e.g., diabetes, heart disease, glaucoma, and arthritis) is the leading cause of death and disability in the United States, accounting for roughly 70% of deaths each year, and treatment accounts for over 85% of all healthcare costs. Treatments are typically burdensome, characterized by repeated dosing of therapeutics on a regular basis for the entirety of one’s life. While many chronic diseases have the potential to be effectively controlled, poor adherence to treatment regimens (a constant clinical challenge) leads to complications and unnecessary disease progression. A minimally-invasive treatment strategy allowing for the long-term delivery of therapeutics could dramatically reduce the number and frequency of therapeutic interventions needed to treat most chronic diseases, thereby improving patient quality of life and mitigating economic burden.
We are developing novel supramolecular biomaterials, which are a distinct class of materials characterized by dynamic cross-linking of polymer chains in water by specific non-covalent interactions and affording highly useful properties that are impossible with traditional hydrogels, yet crucial for a wide variety of emerging biomaterials applications. These properties include externally tunable and shear-responsive mechanical properties and self-healing, which allows them to be deployed in a minimally-invasive fashion by catheter delivery or direct injection. We have demonstrated that release of molecular cargo from supramolecular hydrogels can be very finely tuned through control of the dynamics of the cross-linking within these materials. Our proposed research will make fundamental advancements in molecular engineering of supramolecular biomaterials to allow for the sustained delivery of therapeutics, leading to the development of new long-term treatment strategies for chronic disease affording thus far unrealized therapeutic impact.
“I am honored to be named a Hellman Fellow! The fellowship will provide a critical incubator to perform key initial experiments and to grow new ideas into a full-fledged research program.”