Congratulations to Yu-Heng Deng, PhD student in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, who was selected for a TechnipFMC Fellowship for 2020-2021.
Deng is a member of Robert W. Schaefer Professor Hyunjoon Kong’s research group and focuses on designing self-propelling particles for biofilm removal applications. These self-propelling particles can penetrate biofilm matrix and enhance diffusion of antibiotic molecules to kill bacteria. The lab plans to use such particles to eliminate biofilms which accumulate in oil pipelines.
Deng joined the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering as a PhD student in Fall 2017 after earning bachelor and master degrees from National Taiwan University.
The TechnipFMC fund was originally created by Bert A. Gayman, a University of Illinois mechanical engineering graduate, who gifted shares of Chicago-based Link-Belt Company, later acquired by FMC Corporation. FMC merged with Technip to create TechnipFMC, a global leader in subsea, onshore/offshore and surface projects. The fund supports scholarships, fellowships and research.
Two new grants will fund interdisciplinary neurotechnology research at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology. They include a project on how neurons and muscle cells communicate with each other, funded by the National Science Foundation, and the development of a drug delivery system for treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, funded by the Alzheimer’s Foundation.
“My group is interested in engineering functional muscle and using it to assemble autonomous bioactuator systems,” said Hyunjoon (Joon) Kong, Robert W. Schaefer Professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.
“The muscle engineered in vitro is not the same as the muscles in our body because the system does not have any innervating motor neurons. This project is to understand how we can facilitate the innervation of the neurons into the muscle,” Kong said.
Kong’s lab will collaborate with Gabriel Popescu, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, and Martha Gillette, a professor of cell and developmental biology. All are affiliated with the Beckman Institute.
In addition to studying how the neurons and muscle cells communicate, the Kong group will also look at the interaction between neurons and glial cells, which influence neuronal activity. “Although glial cells are not well characterized, they are known to provide certain signals that make the neurons transmit their electrical signals,” Kong said.
“I will be working with Martha Gillette’s group, who are experts in neurobiology and can guide us in what type of neural cells to look at,” Kong said. “Popescu group members are experts at imaging intracellular events and we want to use their imaging techniques to demonstrate the interaction between the neurons and the muscle cells.”
Members of the Kong group hope that the study will enable them to understand how neurons can be reactivated in injured muscle, which can help improve the treatment of various neuromuscular disorders and acute muscle injuries.
The second grant, from the Alzheimer’s Foundation, will fund research by the Kong group in collaboration with Hee Jung Chung, an associate professor of molecular and integrative physiology and Beckman Institute faculty member.
The grant will study how a drug that has the potential to treat Alzheimer’s disease can be delivered into the body. The drug was developed to target tau proteins that, along with β-amyloid proteins, cause the disease. “Historically, researchers have been focused on treatments that reduce the β-amyloid proteins. However, a large group of patients do not respond to those treatments because the tau proteins are also responsible,” Kong said.
The Kong group hopes to join the research effort that is now focusing on synthesizing nano-sized drug carriers that can target the tau protein. “The drug that targets tau proteins cannot be currently used because it is hydrophobic and therefore cannot dissolve in water,” Kong said. “As a result, you cannot deliver it orally or through injection.” The group will try to solve the problem by encapsulating the drug in a nanoparticle system that can be used to target the diseased regions of the brain.
Written by Ananya Sen, Beckman Institute
Several research images from Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering faculty are currently on display at the National Institutes of Health.
The exhibit was organized by the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology and includes images from the labs of Professors Hyunjoon Kong, Brendan Harley, and Huimin Zhao. All three are researchers affiliated with IGB.
The IGB’s Art of Science program is a celebration of common ground between science and art. Each exhibit comprises images from IGB’s research portfolio, captured in its core facilities, and enhanced to highlight the beauty and fascination encountered daily in scientific endeavors. Art of Science images have been displayed at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, The Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, DC, the German Center for Innovation in NYC, and Abbott Diagnostics, among other locations.
The images can be found in the hallway just outside the library in the NIH Clinical Center (Building 10), down the hall from the Masur Auditorium in Betheseda, MD.
Oxidants found within living organisms are byproducts of metabolism and are essential to wound-healing and immunity. However, when their concentrations become too high, inflammation and tissue damage can occur. University of Illinois engineers have developed and tested a new drug-delivery system that senses high oxidant levels and responds by administering just the right amount of antioxidant to restore this delicate balance.
The findings are published in the journal Small.
Many pharmaceuticals include specialized polymers and particles that control the timing or concentration of the drug released once administered, the researchers said. However, these additives can hamper crystallization during the manufacturing phase of some drugs – like antioxidants – causing them to dissolve in the body in an uncontrolled manner.
“We saw an opportunity here to develop a different kind of drug-delivery system that could sense the level of oxidant in a system and respond by administering antioxidant as needed,” said chemical and biomolecular engineering professor and study co-author Hyunjoon Kong.
Kong and his team found a way to assemble crystals of catechin – the bright green antioxidant found in green tea – using a polymer that can sense when oxidant concentrations become too high. The researchers tested the responsiveness of the resulting catechin crystal-containing polymer in the common freshwater planktonic crustacean Daphnia magna, the water flea.
“Heart rate is an indication of the extent to which potentially toxic chemicals influence physiology in water fleas,” Kong said. “Daphnids are often used to monitor environmental impacts on ecological systems, and because their hearts are similar to those of vertebrates, they are also used to evaluate the efficacy of cardioprotective drugs.”
The researchers exposed the daphnids to water contaminated with sublethal concentrations of the natural oxidant hydrogen peroxide while monitoring their heart rate. They found that the daphnids’ mean heart rates dropped from 348 to 290 and 277 beats per minute, depending on the concentration of hydrogen peroxide used.
When the team added the new catechin crystal assembled with polymer to the experiment, the water fleas recovered a close-to-normal heart rate.
Beyond the potential pharmaceutical uses for the new polymer, Kong’s group is looking into its use for curtailing the impact of highly oxidizing chemicals in natural waterways.
“Hydrogen peroxide is often used to clean water fouled by excessive algae, and this raises concern about how the oxidant may be affecting living organisms in water,” he said. “We think this new antioxidant-delivery system could be used to address the problem of over-oxidized natural waters.”
The researchers plan to push ahead with developing the polymer for pharmaceutical and environmental uses. “This study proved a concept, but we have more work to do,” Kong said. “There is concern over the safety of the specific polymer we used – polyethylenimine diselenide – but we are getting close to finding a viable replacement.”
The Korea Institute of Science and Technology-Europe, Department of Defense, National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health supported this research.
To reach, call Hyunjoon Kong, call 217-333-1178; firstname.lastname@example.org.
The paper “Stimulus‐responsive anti‐oxidizing drug crystals and their ecological implication” is available online and from the U. of I. News Bureau. DOI: 10.1002/smll.201900765
Growing muscle tissue on grooved platforms helps neurons more effectively integrate with the muscle, a requirement for engineering muscle in the lab that responds and functions like muscle in the body, University of Illinois researchers found in a new study.
Such engineered muscle with integrated nerves has applications in reconstructive and rehabilitative medicine, as well as for engineered biological machines or robots.
“With this approach, we can engineer muscle outside of the body so it can respond like muscle in the body,” said study leader Hyunjoon Kong, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering. “Usually people just culture muscle cells without neurons. It’s quite straightforward to do that. But it’s very difficult for neurons to integrate and communicate with the muscle so that it’s functional and responsive.”
The researchers’ goal is to create muscle that responds to neurotransmitters as it responds in the body, rather than relying on added electrical or chemical stimulation. While other groups have demonstrated engineered muscle with some nerve integration, called innervation, the function and response of the muscle has been limited, the researchers say.
The Illinois group altered the surface on which they incubated the muscle to see if topology affected muscle growth, function or innervation. The researchers grew mouse muscle tissue on increasingly grooved surfaces, then seeded the muscle with stem cells primed to become neurons and watched how the nerves formed and integrated with the muscle.
They found that on a flat surface, the muscle tissue lacked organization and nerves did not penetrate efficiently. However, the more grooved the surface, the more ordered the muscle fibers grew and the more successfully the neurons integrated with the muscle, said graduate student Clare (Eunkyung) Ko, the first author of the study.
“If you think about the physiological properties of muscle, it’s very aligned. There are a lot of fibers bundled together. The grooved substrate provides a similar environment to our natural skeletal muscle, so it can help the cells to align and form bundles like a real muscle,” Ko said. “These aligned bundles also guide the neurons as they extend along and into the muscle tissue. It gives them a path to grow.”
The researchers then tested the innervated muscle’s response to two neurotransmitters, natural chemicals that signal nerve cells – one that stimulates activity and one that inhibits it. The tissues grown on the grooved surfaces were the most responsive.
“If the muscle and neurons are functioning together, the muscles should contract when exposed to the chemical that stimulates neurons, and stop when exposed to the inhibitors. Ours did that,” Kong said. “We are the first ones to demonstrate that our muscle is functional and responding to these chemicals much better than others.”
The researchers plan to refine their grooved substrates in experiments with human muscle and nerve cells. They hope to develop their approach as a platform for drug screening and for tissue engineering for patients with muscle damage or injury.
“When there is damage to the muscle, there often is a gap in the nerves as well. This can cause the muscle to become weaker and smaller. So for injury treatment, it’s important to let the neurons re-innervate the muscle,” Kong said. “We could use a patient’s own cells to engineer muscle samples to screen which drugs could enhance the reintroduction of neurons to the muscle. We could test a variety of growth factors or proteins and see which would be good for regeneration of the muscle with the neurons together.”
The researchers also plan to use the innervated muscle to power miniature biological machines, or bio-bots. Bashir’s group has developed bio-bots powered by muscle tissue that responds to electricity and light, and integration with neurons would provide the machines with sensing capability that could provide direction – for example, moving toward an environmental toxin to neutralize it, Bashir said.
“Our goal is to build a little neuronal circuit that could sense chemical concentration and translate that to motion,” Bashir said.
The National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and the National Research Foundation of Korea supported this work.
Editor’s notes: To reach Hyunjoon Kong, call (217) 333-1178; email: email@example.com.
Stiff microbial films often coat medical devices, household items and infrastructure such as the inside of water supply pipes, and can lead to dangerous infections. Researchers have developed a system that harnesses the power of bubbles to propel tiny particles through the surfaces of these tough films and deliver an antiseptic deathblow to the microbes living inside.
Biofilms are slimy colonies of microbes held together by internal scaffolds, clinging to anything they touch. About 80 percent of all medical infections originate from biofilms that invade the inner workings of hospital devices and implants inside patients. Eradication is difficult because traditional disinfectants and antibiotics cannot effectively penetrate a biofilm’s tough surface, the researchers said.
In the journal ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces, a team led by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign describes how they used diatoms – the tiny skeletons of algae – loaded with an oxygen-generating chemical to destroy microbes.
“Most of us get those black or yellow spots in our showers at home,” said co-author Hyunjoon Kong, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and a Carle Illinois College of Medicine affiliate. “Those spots are biofilms and most of us know it takes a lot of energy to scrub them away. Imagine trying to do this inside the confined space of the tubing of a medical device or implant. It would be very difficult.”
Looking to nature and basic mechanics for a solution, the researchers developed a system that uses naturally abundant diatoms along with hydrogen peroxide and tiny oxygen-generating sheets of the compound manganese oxide.
“We could have fabricated a particle using 3D printers, but luckily nature already provided us with a cheap and abundant option in diatoms,” said co-author and postdoctoral researcher Yongbeom Seo. “The species of diatom we selected are hollow, highly porous and rod-shaped, providing a lot of surface area for the bubbles to form and a channel for the bubbles to escape.”
The chemical reaction between the hydrogen peroxide and manganese oxide nanosheets takes place within the empty space inside the diatom. The result is a flourish of microbubbles that flow through the tiny channel, propelling the rigid diatoms forward with enough force to break up the surface and internal structure of the biofilms, the researchers said.
“We dope the particles with nanosheets of manganese oxide, then mix them with hydrogen peroxide and apply that to the surface of the biofilm,” Kong said. “Once the diatoms break through to the internal structure of the biofilm, they continue to expel bubbles and facilitate the entry of hydrogen peroxide, which is an effective disinfectant against bacteria and fungus.”
The researchers believe that their success is a result of a decision to focus on the mechanical aspects of biofilm destruction, not the chemical aspects of simply killing microbes.
“We have arrived at a mechanistic solution for this problem and the possibilities for this technology are endless,” said co-author Simon Rogers, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering. “We are discussing our research with clinicians who have many exciting ideas of how to use this system that we did not even think of originally, such as the removal of dental plaque.”
U. of I. researchers Jiayu Leong, Jun Dong Park, Yu-Tong Hong, Yu-Heng Deng, Vitaliy Dushnov and Joonghui Soh also contributed to this study. Additional co-authors include Sang-Hyon Chu of the National Institute of Aerospace, Cheol Park of the NASA Langley Research Center, Dong Hyun Kim of the Korea Institute of Industrial Technology and Yi Yan-Yang of the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology in Singapore.
The National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the Korea Institute of Industrial Technology supported this research.
Written by Lois Yoksoulian, U of I News Bureau
To reach Hyunjoon Kong, call 217-333-1178; firstname.lastname@example.org.
The paper “Diatom microbubbler for active biofilm removal in confined spaces” is available online and from the U. of I. News Bureau. DOI: 10.1021/acsami.8b08643
Congratulations to Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering graduate student William Ballance, who has been selected to receive a TechnipFMC Fellowship for 2018-2019.
Ballance is a third-year PhD student and member of Dr. Hyunjoon Kong’s research group. In the Kong Lab, Ballance’s projects have centered on antibacterial soft materials, namely, using hydrogels as base materials. One project focused on a hydrogel that releases an antibacterial drug in response to external stretching. Another project involved developing a vibrating device that removes biofilms that collect on the surface of the hydrogel. For his next research project, Ballance plans to use an iodine sequestering gel that eliminates corrosive bacteria that accumulates on steel in anaerobic environments such as pipelines and oil wells.
The TechnipFMC fund was originally created by Bert A. Gayman, a mechanical engineering graduate of the University of Illinois with a gift of shares of Chicago-based Link-Belt Company, later acquired by FMC Corporation. FMC recently merged with Technip to create TechnipFMC, a global leader in subsea, onshore/offshore and surface projects. The fund supports scholarships, fellowships and research.
Program to form new insight on the brain, expand participation in field of brain science
The National Science Foundation recently granted the University of Illinois $3 million for an interdisciplinary graduate student training program to help form new insight on the brain—and to expand participation in the field of brain science itself.
Sixty graduate students from across campus will participate in the five-year National Science Foundation (NSF) Research Traineeship, led by Martha Gillette, professor of cell and developmental biology and director of the Neuroscience Program. Hyunjoon Kong, professor in chemical and biomolecular engineering, is the lead co-principal investigator.
The project’s primary goal is to provide students with an immersive research experience that blends techniques from multiple disciplines to better understand the many aspects of the human body’s most complex organ.
The program will teach students to use and understand miniature brain machinery critical to examining and regulating brain activities. It’s also designed to increase the participation of women, underrepresented minorities, and students with disabilities in the field of brain science.
A third goal is to improve scientists’ communication skills with the public.
“This is a training initiative between neuroscience and engineering. It’s building on some of the new technologies in engineering, but it’s focused on better understanding the brain,” Gillette said. “It’s exciting because it’s going to let us do new things and train graduate students in new ways.”
Students will come from several departments across campus, including neuroscience, cell and developmental biology, molecular and integrative physiology, chemistry, psychology, chemical and biomolecular engineering, bioengineering, and electrical and computer engineering.
The training program will bridge two research paradigms about the brain: cognitive and behavioral studies, including the use of bioimaging and computational tools to understand adaptation, decision-making, psychology, and learning of an individual; and cell and tissue studies, with a focus on altering cell activity through a variety of methods.
To meet these goals, the program will guide graduate students through specialized courses to broaden their knowledge beyond their own specific fields. Training courses will address behavior and the development of the nervous system as well as engineering, biological, and psychological perspectives on how brain activity can be modified.
The U of I project was one of only three proposals aimed at understanding the brain selected for this particular NSF project, out of a large national competition. Co-directors on the project include Rashid Bashir, professor of bioengineering and electrical and computer engineering and head of the Department of Bioengineering; Neal Cohen, professor of psychology; and Jonathan Sweedler, professor of chemistry.
Students also will have opportunities to visit and work with the laboratories of international partners, including the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology of A*STAR (Singapore), the Biomedical Research Institute of the Korean Institute of Science and Technology (S. Korea), the University of Tokyo (Japan), the University of Okayama (Japan), the University of Birmingham (U.K.), and the Johannes Gutenberg-University at Mainz (Germany).
While the funding mainly contributes to a training program for graduate students, the project also has a research component. Gillette expects the project to advance a relatively new field of study regarding how, through cross-talking, groups of cells behave differently than the entity that they’re part of.
“The idea of using these self-organizing neuron preparations is new,” Gillette said. “It’s new enough that over the five years of the grant and training period, it will really develop a lot, especially with the technologies we have.”
The U of I’s interdisciplinary approach fits with the NSF’s focus for the training program.
“Integration of research and education through interdisciplinary training will prepare a workforce that undertakes scientific challenges in innovative ways,” said Dean Evasius, director of the NSF Division of Graduate Education. “The NSF Research Traineeship awards will ensure that today’s graduate students are prepared to pursue cutting-edge research and solve the complex problems of tomorrow.”
By Samantha Jones Toal, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
The American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE) has announced the pending induction of Dr. Hyunjoon Kong, Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering to its College of Fellows.
Dr. Kong was nominated, reviewed, and elected by peers and members of the College of Fellows for outstanding contributions to the fields of biomaterials, bioimaging contrast agents and tissue engineering.
The College of Fellows is comprised of the top two percent of medical and biological engineers in the country. The most accomplished and distinguished engineering and medical school chairs, research directors, professors, innovators, and successful entrepreneurs, comprise the College of Fellows.
Kong is also Professor of Pathobiology and interim director of the Bioengineering graduate program. He is a core member of the Regenerative Biology and Tissue Engineering theme at the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology. He is also affiliated with the Neuroscience program and the Center for Biophysics and Quantitative Biology at the University of Illinois.
Kong’s research focuses on the synthesis, characterization, and processing of nanobiomaterials for diagnostic imaging and molecular/cell therapies of wounds and vascular diseases and regeneration of neuromuscular interface. He joined the Illinois faculty in 2007. He was featured in the recent issue of Mass Transfer, our magazine for alumni and friends.
A formal induction ceremony will be held during AIMBE’s 2017 Annual Meeting at the National Academy of Sciences Great Hall in Washington, DC on March 20, 2017. Dr. Kong will be inducted along with 145 colleagues who make up the AIMBE College of Fellows Class of 2017.
AIMBE’s mission is to recognize excellence in, and advocate for, the fields of medical and biological engineering in order to advance society. Since 1991, AIMBE‘s College of Fellows has lead the way for technological growth and advancement in the fields of medical and biological engineering. Fellows have helped revolutionize medicine and related fields in order to enhance and extend the lives of people all over the world. They have also successfully advocated for public policies that have enabled researchers and business-makers to further the interests of engineers, teachers, scientists, clinical practitioners, and ultimately, patients.
AIMBE Fellows are regularly recognized for their contributions in teaching, research, and innovation. AIMBE Fellows have been awarded the Presidential Medal of Science and the Presidential Medal of Technology and Innovation and many also are members of the National Academy of Engineering, National Academy of Medicine, and the National Academy of Sciences.
Congratulations to Dr. Hyunjoon Kong, recipient of a 2016 Campus Distinguished Promotion Award. The award, given by the Campus Committee on Promotion and Tenure, identifies scholars whose contributions and achievements within their respective fields are particularly excellent.
“Your dossier was identified as one recommended to me for special recognition based on the scope, quality and impact of your scholarship, teaching, service, and engagement efforts,” wrote Edward Feser, interim vice chancellor for academic affairs and provost at the University of Illinois.
Dr. Kong’s promotion to the rank of full professor takes effect Aug. 16, 2016. He also holds the title of College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Centennial Scholar.
Professor Kong’s research focuses on the synthesis, characterization, and processing of nanobiomaterials for diagnostic imaging and molecular/cell therapies of wounds and vascular diseases. He joined the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering faculty in 2007 and is affiliated with the Departments of Bioengineering and Pathobiology at the University of Illinois. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan.