Prof. Somin Eunice Lee, assistant professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, was awarded an NSF CAREER award for her research project, “Engineering Plasmonic Nanoantenna Architectures for Efficient Nuclear Delivery.”
Prof. Lee will develop improved methods for gene therapy by delivering corrected genes directly to the cell nucleus of damaged genes more efficiently and with greater control than is currently possible. This research will also provide a better understanding of tissue formation, and may one day lead to new strategies to engineer functional replacement tissues, such as lungs, organs, and glands.
Current research has focused on viral and non-viral techniques to transport genes, each of which have critical drawbacks. In particular, it is difficult to optimally time the delivery of genes, and to deliver the genes to specific groups of cells. Recently, the use of gold nanoparticles has shown greater promise, though only in a limited fashion (ie, delivery of the nanoparticles has been limited to the cytosol only, which is the liquid outside the cell nucleus).
Prof. Lee aims to develop configurable nanostructures to deliver genes efficiently and specifically to the cell nucleus, without impacting neighboring cells, using optical transport, or light. This method for efficient and specific delivery of corrected genes should lower required dosages and minimize unwanted side effects.
Prof. Lee’s research is focused on engineering nanophotonic instrumentation to quantitatively analyze complex biological systems and improve cellular therapies. She is specifically interested in the design and implementation of tools enabling enhanced spatial and temporal control for the development of “smart” nanodevices, single-molecule imaging, and tunable nanomedicine. She directs the Bioplasmonics Group, and is a member of the University of Michigan Biointerfaces Institute.
The CAREER grant is one of the National Science Foundation's most prestigious awards, conferred for "the early career-development activities of those teacher-scholars who most effectively integrate research and education within the context of the mission of their organization."
Prof. Lee’s award is in the NSF Division of Electrical, Communications and Cyber Systems (ECCS).