I graduated from the University of Florida with a Bachelors of Science degree in mechanical engineering and minors in biomechanics and anthropology. While at UF, I was an active member in the engineering society Tau Beta Pi, a recipient of the Sam Walton Community Scholarship, and a recipient of the Bright Futures scholarship award 2006-2010.
I am currently a senior Ph.D. candidate at the Georgia Institute of Technology in the bioengineering program and school of mechanical engineering. I joined the Cellular and Biomaterials Engineering Laboratory of Dr. Andrés García in September 2010 and have been researching the effect of integrin-specific hydrogels on mesenchymal stem cell survival and function after transplantation for bone repair.
Cell-based strategies have emerged as promising therapies for the treatment of diseased organs. Adult human mesenchymal stem cells (hMSC) constitute a critical component of the hematopoietic stem cell niche in the bone marrow, and although hMSCs have shown promising results in clinical trials, inadequate control of cell fate and cell engraftment in host tissues limits the success of this cell-based therapy. Integrin-mediated cell adhesion plays a central role in tissue formation, maintenance, and repair by providing anchorage forces and triggering signals that regulate cell function. We hypothesize that biomaterials presenting integrin-specific adhesive motifs will direct hMSC signaling and specification. The objective of this project is to engineer bioartificial hydrogels presenting integrin-specific ligands to create biomimetic niches for hMSC differentiation as well as cell delivery vehicles for enhanced in vivo engraftment and function. The following research is innovative because it focuses on engineering specificity to integrin receptors to promote stem cell differentiation and survival without the use of exogenous growth factors, integrates novel in vivo imaging, and utilizes novel hydrogel chemistry. Our results show that hydrogels functionalized with collagen I-derived GFOGER adhesive peptide significantly enhance transplanted hMSC viability and bone formation in a critically-sized bone defect model compared to the fibronectin-derived RGD-functionalized hydrogels.