Research area: Bioengineering
Research group: Dr. Jennifer Maynard
My lab role and research: I am currently working on a project to develop an oral vaccination delivery system. The system takes advantage of a protein called invasin that bacteria use to invade the body through certain cells (M cells) in the intestines. After antigen is encapsulated in polymeric particles, invasin can be attached to the surface of these particles, allowing them to specifically target M cells which will induce an appropriate immune response against the antigen. My role in the project involves using various protein engineering techniques to increase the affinity of invasin for targeted M cells, and determining the best conditions for creating the particles to optimize encapsulation efficiency and particle morphology.
How will this research will benefit society: This project has widespread implications in improving the quality of life of patients worldwide. First, oral delivery of vaccines will elicit a more natural and complete immune response by using one of the body’s existing methods of antigen sampling. Furthermore, oral vaccinations will increase patient comfort and compliance, while requiring lower administration costs. Finally, since the particle formulation will be stable in powder form, the vaccines can be distributed readily to all areas of the world where storage conditions are not ideal.
How I plan to use this research experience in my career: I plan to attend graduate school, I will likely continue research in bioengineering, and the wet-lab techniques that I have learned from the Maynard Lab will be readily transferable to related research groups. Furthermore, the research experience I gained working in a lab as an undergraduate helped strengthen my applications when I was applying to graduate schools.
My advice to students who plan on doing research: Start researching early. Don’t be afraid to ask professors about research opportunities; most professors are eager to share their research with you. Many students start undergraduate research the summer before their freshman year. Also, experiment with different research areas. Part of undergraduate education is discovering what your interests are and how to pursue them after graduation. Finally, learn as much about your project as possible. Having a detailed understanding of your work helps place all tasks in the context of the overall goal of the research.