2017-18 Fleming Scholars named: Kevin Weyant and Zhu Cheng
Kevin Weyant of the DeLisa Group and Zhu Cheng of the Paszek research group have been named the 2017-2018 Fleming Scholars. Their research descriptions are provided below:
Kevin Weyant (DeLisa Group)
Outer membrane vesicles (OMVs) are liposomes of variable size (20-300 nM) that are produced constitutively by Gram-negative bacteria. Previous studies have shown that OMVs can be engineered to express recombinant protein or carbohydrate antigens. These OMVs can then be administered in mice to generate protective immune responses. However, frequent difficulties expressing complex antigens on OMVs limits their utility. Moreover, immune responses to recombinant OMV vaccines are not sufficient for some pathogens. Kevin aims to enhance the versatility of OMV vaccines both by facilitating the display of multiple antigens for broader protection and by targeting OMVs to specific cell types to modulate immune responses. Specifically, he is engineering a system in which purified antigens or receptor-binding molecules can be bound to a protein scaffold on OMVs. His work may provide tools that will facilitate the production of a wide range of vaccines for infectious diseases and cancer.
Zhu Cheng (Paszek Group)
Zhu’s research focuses on elucidating how mechanical properties of biomaterials can regulate cellular functions, with the aim of programming complex biological processes and tissue assembly through biomaterial design. Cells physically probe their extracellular environment to inform decision making related to cell proliferation, differentiation, migration and other critical processes. Recent studies have illustrated that solid surface stresses can have a dominant role in the mechanical behaviors of soft materials with vanishingly small elasticity. Zhu hypothesizes that these surface stresses can direct complex cellular behaviors. In future work, Zhu will study whether cells coordinate their movements through surface tension gradients (i.e. Marangoni effects) generated by cell contractility on the biomaterial substrates. Overall, Zhu hopes that her work will help to better understand cell-matrix interactions and aid in the design of biomaterial scaffolds for cell and tissue growth.