Controlled/"living" polymerization techniques provide a high degree of versatility over polymer synthesis with regards to the composition, topology and functionality of resulting polymers. The wide range of available monomers, initiators and catalysts, as well as the development of orthogonal polymerization mechanisms and establishment of adaptable reaction conditions allow for the facile preparation of (multi)functional polymers with well-defined characteristics.
I am interested in the application of controlled polymerization protocols (such as RAFT polymerization, ROMP and ROP) and their combination for the synthesis of polymers with unique properties. In particular, my research is focused on polymerizations that can be performed directly in aqueous media, via mild initiation methodologies (such as visible light) and/or in the presence of biomolecules (proteins, DNA, lipids, etc).
J. C. Foster, et al. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2020, 142, 13878-13885.
J. C. Foster, et al. Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2018, 57, 10672-10676.
Precision synthesis of amphiphilic block copolymers can be achieved through controlled polymerization techniques. When in selective solvent for one (or more) of the consisting copolymer blocks, spontaneous aggregation occurs leading to the formation of self-organized nanostructures, such as core-shell spherical and worm-like micelles, polymersomes, and other more complex morphologies. Typically, both thermodynamic and kinetic concepts govern the self-assembly process and can determine the obtained morphology of such formulations.
My research work involves the engineering of nanostructured objects comprised of block copolymer amphiphiles with controlled morphology and properties, employing either conventional self-assembly methodologies or polymerization-induced self-assembly (PISA). Importantly, I am interested in exploring novel self-assembly and morphological evolution pathways, predicting nanoscale phase behavior through theoretical models and identifying useful structure-property relationships.
Stimuli-responsive polymers and their corresponding nanostructures are capable of undergoing reversible phase transitions and/or conformational changes, accompanied by variations in their chemical composition and physical properties upon exposure to externally applied stimuli, such as pH, temperature, redox potential, light, etc. These "smart" materials have already found a broad range of applications in oil modification, water purification, nanomedicine and cell-mimicry.
Part of my research work is focused on the development of polymers that present responsiveness under physiologically relevant conditions (i.e. the mildly acidic pH or increased glutathione concentration encountered in tumor cells), their self-assembly in aqueous media and their application in targeted drug delivery. I am primarily interested in biocompatible polypeptide-based materials that contain various stimuli-responsive side-group functionalities (e.g. pH-sensitive poly(L-histidine)- and redox-sensitive poly(L-cysteine)-based copolymers).
Recently, numerous approaches have been developed for the preparation of minimal polymer-based formulations that mimic the functionality and hierarchical organization of naturally occurring systems. However, these synthetic nanomaterials have yet to reach their full potential and the high level of complexity and sophistication of biological systems, such as proteins, nucleic acids, biomembranes, etc.
Inspired by nature, one of my main research goals is to construct bio-mimicking polymers and self-assembled nanostructures for applications in therapeutics delivery, biocatalysis and cell/organelle-mimicry. Particularly, I'm interested in the design of synthetic (co)polypeptides that can adopt a secondary structure similar to that of proteins, as well as the engineering of biomembrane-mimicking enzyme-loaded polymersome nanoreactors that facilitate the investigation of biologically relevant molecular trafficking mechanisms.