Congratulations to Dr. Josephine Allen for receiving the National Science Foundation CAREER award, entitled “CAREER: Biomolecular Engineering Approach to Controlling Cell Processes”. In this work, Dr. Allen focusses on developing strategies to control cellular functions, which is critical in the field of tissue engineering. Controlling cellular processes is often achieved through the activation of receptor proteins on the surface of the cells, which triggers a cascade of events leading to a desired cellular response. Of interest are the cellular responses that contribute to the formation of a blood vessels network. Controlling blood vessel formation is paramount to the success of many engineered tissue substitutes, and continues to be a challenge and a barrier to progress within the field. Current strategies include the use of receptor specific growth factors, which are difficult to control, can be unstable, require high doses, and may bind to unintentional targets. There is a need to promote blood vessel formation using alternative strategies. In this work, Dr. Allen seeks to develop a new strategy to control cellular processes through the use of highly tunable small molecules termed, aptamers. If successful, this work will advance our understanding of the fundamental science involved in controlling cellular behavior, and have a significant impact on the field of tissue engineering. Dr. Allen has planned education and outreach activities that have been integrated with the proposed research and involves providing hands-on research experience to students in local middle and high school, the creation of online educator resources which will be available to K-12 teachers nationwide, as well as outreach to underrepresented minority undergraduate students.
Dr. Allen earned her Ph.D. from Northwestern University in 2009 in biological sciences, and joined the Materials Science and Engineering Department in fall 2010 as an assistant professor. The Allen lab is working on various strategies utilizing material properties to control cellular processes, with particular emphasis on adult stem cell differentiation. Her primary research objective is in the area of tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. Dr. Allen’s work is currently funded in part by grants from, the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Aeronautics and Space Foundation (NASA), and the Department of Defense, US. Army.
More information about Dr. Allen’s research interest can be found at allen.mse.ufl.edu