Dial-a-membrane: precision engineering of sub-micron self-assembled materials

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: Department of Chemical Engineering


Liposomes and related amphiphilic assemblies have received much interest in recent years due to their wide biotechnological potential. This ranges from their use as capsules for targeted drug and vaccine delivery, miniaturised bioreactors, biosensors, tools for pharmacokinetic screens, and as cell models for the study of fundamental biology. They are increasingly being functionalised with biological machinery, which has led to them being exploited as the base motif for artificial cells: structures that mimic biological cells in form/function, which can perform user-defined tasks as biomimetic microdevices.

Liposomes used in these applications share a common structure, namely that of a spherical compartment encased by a lipid bilayer. This lack of architectural diversity has hindered their technological potential. However, we know from biology that step changes in the sophistication of chemical microsystems can be achieved by having non-uniform spatial organisation; this is achieved through compartmentalisation of content in discrete spatial locations.

In this project, we will develop new platform technologies which will enable a host of compartmentalised nanostructures that can be made-to-order, with full control over all relevant parameters including size, compartment number, and composition/phase state of individual compartments and their associated membranes. Once established, this new paradigm has the potential to underpin a host of applications in biotechnology, and provide new insights on fundamental biology through the use of biomimetic models that cannot yet be replicated in-vitro despite being pivotal to life. We will exploit the control afforded by this approach to create stimuli-responsive particles for in-situ drug synthesis as well as multi-stage therapeutic payload release, paving the way for industrial and clinical applications.


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