Welcome to the Haun Laboratory for Nanoengineering and Molecular Medicine
Diseases are driven by changes in the number and activity of key functional molecules. Our goal is to develop and deploy technologies to interrogate molecular changes with the purpose of improving diagnosis and treatment.
Chronic diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease involve cells, tissues, and even organs that have ceased behaving as they should. But cells do not choose to go awry. Rather the disease is a manifestation of changes in the number and activity of key functional molecules within the cells. The field of molecular medicine is predicated on the belief that knowledge of these molecular changes will lead to earlier and more accurate diagnoses, as well as identification of the most effective treatment options for each individual patient. For the goals of molecular medicine to be realized however, new detection technologies and strategies are needed to analyze diseased cells.
The need for molecular medicine is most dire for cancer. This is because tumors are extremely dynamic and heterogenous. Thus, no two tumors are alike, and even the same tumor may be completely different after a short period of time. These factors have driven interest in replacing general chemotherapies with agents that target the specific molecular pathways that control tumor growth and survival.
The focus of our research is to create biomedical technologies that will enable molecular analysis of diseases both inside and outside of the body. To achieve these goals, we employ powerful nanomaterial molecular probes, advanced bioconjugation strategies, novel microfabricated devices, computational simulations, and advanced imaging methods.
Our current research topics include
(1) Nanomaterial probes for molecular profiling. We are pursuing novel approaches to increase the molecular detection power of methods such as fluorescence imaging and MRI. This includes developing schemes to amplify, activate, and multiplex nanomaterial probe signals when attached to target molecules. We focus on detecting proteins to directly interrogate cell activation, growth, and drug sensitivity.
(2) Microfabricated platforms for cell analysis. Biological specimens such as body fluids and biopsies are the primary clinical sources of diagnostic material. We are developing integrated platforms to automate cell-based sample processing, labeling, and detection. Microfabricated devices allow us to access specimen types with extremely small cell numbers, such as less invasive fine-needle aspirate biopsies.
(3) Engineering adhesion dynamics of targeted delivery carriers. Finding and diagnosing yet unknown diseases inside the body is a major goal of medicine. We are developing nanomaterial carriers that actively search for diseases by interacting with the unique molecules that they express. Our work is novel in that we are working to precisely tune the complex binding behavior displayed by nano-scale objects.