A pinboard by
Handan Acar

Postdoctoral Researcher, The University of Chicago, Institute for Molecular Engineering


Using molecular engineering to elucidate the fundamental properties of self-assembling systems

My research goals are based on the applications of chemical techniques to tune the supramolecular interactions of self-assembling molecules. In self-assembly processes, fundamental building blocks organize themselves into functional structures as driven by the physicochemical properties of the system. Sufficient combinations of rationally placed interactions can produce the reversible self-assembly of stable structures, with these structures presenting a highly tunable and modular platform for a variety of applications. I use these powerful methodologies to surmount the key challenges for peptide-based therapeutics, diagnostics, and delivery platforms for biomedical applications. Furthermore, I use these approaches to elucidate the fundamental properties of self-assembling systems, in order to push the boundaries of molecular science for clinical applications. I am using my expertise to engineer programmable self-assembling peptides to expand the field of drug development. With both chemical tools and engineering approaches, I aim to understand and manipulate biological systems using biocompatible therapeutics at the nanoscale. To enable new translational clinical technologies, my research focuses on molecular designs that incorporate these aspects into novel materials.


Targeting and destroying tumor vasculature with a near-infrared laser-activated "nanobomb" for efficient tumor ablation.

Abstract: Attacking the supportive vasculature network of a tumor offers an important new avenue for cancer therapy. Herein, a near-infrared (NIR) laser-activated "nanobomb" was developed as a noninvasive and targeted physical therapeutic strategy to effectively disrupt tumor neovasculature in an accurate and expeditious manner. This "nanobomb" was rationally fabricated via the encapsulation of vinyl azide (VA) into c(RGDfE) peptide-functionalized, hollow copper sulfide (HCuS) nanoparticles. The resulting RGD@HCuS(VA) was selectively internalized into integrin αvβ3-expressing tumor vasculature endothelial cells and dramatically increased the photoacoustic signals from the tumor neovasculature, achieving a maximum signal-to-noise ratio at 4 h post-injection. Upon NIR irradiation, the local temperature increase triggered VA to release N2 bubbles rapidly. Subsequently, these N2 bubbles could instantly explode to destroy the neovasculature and further induce necrosis of the surrounding tumor cells. A single-dose injection of RGD@HCuS(VA) led to complete tumor regression after laser irradiation, with no tumor regrowth for 30 days. More importantly, high-resolution photoacoustic angiography, combined with excellent biodegradability, facilitated the precise destruction of tumor neovasculature by RGD@HCuS(VA) without damaging normal tissues. These results demonstrate the great potential of this "nanobomb" for clinical translation to treat cancer patients with NIR laser-accessible orthotopic tumors.

Pub.: 05 Jun '17, Pinned: 04 Jul '17

Protein-like molecular architecture: biomaterial applications for inducing cellular receptor binding and signal transduction.

Abstract: The development of biomaterials with desirable biocompatibility has presented a difficult challenge for tissue engineering researchers. First and foremost, materials themselves tend to be hydrophobic and/or thrombogenic in nature, and face compatibility problems upon implantation. To mediate this problem, researchers have attempted to graft protein fragments onto biomaterial surfaces to promote endothelial cell attachment and minimize thrombosis. We envisioned a novel approach, based on the capability of biomolecules to self-assemble into well-defined and intricate structures, for creating biomimetic biomaterials that promote cell adhesion and proliferation. One of the most intriguing self-assembly processes is the folding of peptide chains into native protein structures. We have developed a method for building protein-like structural motifs that incorporate sequences of biological interest. A lipophilic moiety is attached onto a N alpha-amino group of peptide chain, resulting in a "peptide-amphiphile." The alignment of amphiphilic compounds at the lipid-solvent interface is used to facilitate peptide alignment and structure initiation and propagation, while the lipophilic region absorbs to hydrophobic surfaces. Peptide-amphiphiles containing potentially triple-helical or alpha-helical structural motifs have been synthesized. The resultant head group structures have been characterized by CD spectroscopy and found to be thermally stable over physiological temperature ranges. Triple-helical peptide-amphiphiles have been applied to studies of surface modification and cell receptor binding. Cell adhesion and spreading was promoted by triple-helical peptide-amphiphiles. Cellular interaction with the type IV collagen sequence alpha 1(IV) 1263-1277 increased signal transduction, with both the time and level of induction dependent upon triple-helical conformation. Collectively, these results suggest that peptide-amphiphiles may be used to form stable molecular structure on biomaterial surfaces that promote cellular activities and improve biocompatibility.

Pub.: 15 Aug '98, Pinned: 04 Jul '17

Modular Peptide Amphiphile Micelles Improving an Antibody-Mediated Immune Response to Group A Streptococcus

Abstract: Inducing a strong and specific immune response is the hallmark of a successful vaccine. Nanoparticles have emerged as promising vaccine delivery devices to discover and elicit immune responses. Fine-tuning a nanoparticle vaccine to create an immune response with specific antibody and other cellular responses is influenced by many factors such as shape, size, and composition. Peptide amphiphile micelles are a unique biomaterials platform that can function as a modular vaccine delivery system, enabling control over many of these important factors and delivering payloads more efficiently to draining lymph nodes. In this study, the modular properties of peptide amphiphile micelles are utilized to improve an immune response against a Group A Streptococcus B cell antigen (J8). The hydrophobic/hydrophilic interface of peptide amphiphile micelles enabled the precise entrapment of amphiphilic adjuvants which were found to not alter micelle formation or shape. These heterogeneous micelles significantly enhanced murine antibody responses when compared to animals vaccinated with nonadjuvanted micelles or soluble J8 peptide supplemented with a classical adjuvant. The heterogeneous micelle induced antibodies also showed cross-reactivity with wild-type Group A Streptococcus providing evidence that micelle-induced immune responses are capable of identifying their intended pathogenic targets.

Pub.: 28 Sep '16, Pinned: 30 Jun '17

Effect of the lipid chain melting transition on the stability of DSPE-PEG(2000) micelles.

Abstract: Micellar nanoparticles are showing promise as carriers of diagnostic and therapeutic biofunctionality, leading to increased interest in their properties and behavior, particularly their size, shape, and stability. This work investigates the physical chemistry of micelles formed from DSPE-PEG(2000) monomers as it pertains to these properties. A melting transition in the lipid core of spheroidal DSPE-PEG(2000) micelles is observed as an endothermic peak at 12.8 degrees C upon heating in differential scanning calorimetry thermograms. Bulky PEG(2000) head groups prevent regular crystalline packing of lipids in both the low-temperature glassy and high-temperature fluid phases, as evidenced by wide-angle X-ray scattering. Equilibrium micelle geometry is spheroidal above and below the transition temperature, indicating that the entropic penalty to force the PEG brush into flat geometry is greater than the enthalpic benefit to the glassy core to pack in an extended configuration. Increased micelle stability is seen in the glassy phase with monomer desorption rates significantly lower than in the fluid phase. Activation energies for monomer desorption are 156+/-6.7 and 79+/-5.0 kJ/mol for the glassy and fluid phases, respectively. The observation of a glass transition that increases micelle stability but does not perturb micelle geometry is useful for the design of more effective biofunctional micelles.

Pub.: 11 Apr '09, Pinned: 30 Jun '17