Our research projects can be grouped in three main themes:
Selective multivalent targeting and cell-adhesion
Multivalency is a unique concept found in nature, where multiple interactions between ligands and receptors are combined to increase overall binding strength and kinetic stability. The multivalent combination of weak ligand-receptor interactions allows to tune the performance of the resulting interaction network. This strength in numbers principle is fundamental to the spatio-temporal control over biological activity in living systems. We explore how we can benefit from the structural precision provided by DNA to design materials that show unique binding profiles toward their cell-surface targets. We correlate our experimental data to new binding models to further analyze and understand how control in nanoparticle design parameters can be used to program binding affinity for the next generation targeting nanoparticles and biomaterials.
Nucleation and growth of semi-crystalline surfaces and defect-free hydrogels
Using DNA-tiles and DNA-polymer hybrid structures, we explore the 2D and 3D design space of ordered, semi-crystalline surfaces and hydrogels. Combining experiments with simulations, we aim to predict the stability and rate of formation of our monomers, as well as guide the choice of monomer design. These studies are relevant for the fundamental understanding of the pathways of self-assembly and to predict physical properties of self-assembled structures based on classical soft matter theory.
Immune pathways are prime examples of cascades where a finely balanced sequence of interactions decides between life-changing outcomes, varying from tolerance to active fight. Immune-modulating materials, therefore, would uniquely benefit from precision control over functionality. DNA-based nanomaterials have the potential to change our current bioengineering standards due to their inherent architectural uniformity and nanometer control of functionalization, allowing for a quantitative analysis of material parameters on cell activation. We use structural geometry of DNA-based materials to provoke controlled intracellular manipulation of immune signaling via the hierarchical and spatial organization of constitutive DNA binding proteins.