Lei Cai, Ph.D.
NIH Ruth L. Kirschstein NRSA
Design of Programmable Biomaterials for Regenerative Medicine
Room 698 Fenster Hall
Cell-based therapies by transplanting cells via syringe injection are minimally invasive, showing enormous potential in treating a variety of injuries and diseases. However, cell delivery via direct injection results in dismally poor cell survival, typically ~1% at one week post-delivery, which is caused both by the cell membrane disruption during injection and the lack of an appropriate cell niche in situ. In this talk, I will discuss examples of my research to design injectable and programmable biomaterials that address these unmet challenges. In one strategy, I design injectable hydrogels that are programmed to undergo protein-based, molecular-recognition crosslinking ex vivo to encapsulate cells and thermo-responsive crosslinking in situ to promote cell regenerative function. Using a preclinical model of human adipose-derived stem cell transplantation, I demonstrate the ability of these hydrogels to provide cell protection during injection, prolong transplanted cell retention, and promote tissue regeneration. In a second strategy, I design highly tunable extracellular matrix-mimetic biomaterials to optimize cell-material interactions that guide desirable cellular fates and accelerate therapeutic angiogenesis and neurogenesis. These biomaterials contain a range of modular peptide domains with multifunctionality and allow independent tuning of cell niche properties including biochemical, mechanical, and topographical cues to recapitulate the in vivo microenvironment. By integrating novel chemistry, materials design, protein engineering, and cell biology, I aim to further apply these strategies in the development of novel biomaterials with translational potential to enable new regenerative medicine therapies.
Dr. Lei Cai is currently a NIH Ruth L. Kirschstein NRSA postdoctoral fellow with Prof. Sarah Heilshorn at Stanford University. He received his Ph.D. in Polymer Engineering under the supervision of Prof. Shanfeng Wang at The University of Tennessee in 2012. His doctoral research led to twelve first-author and many other co-author research publications developing synthetic polymeric biomaterials and investigating cell-material interactions for soft and hard tissue engineering applications. At Stanford, his postdoctoral research involves the innovative design of engineered protein-based biomaterials for regenerative therapies of neurovasuclar diseases. His postdoctoral work has been selected for the Interdisciplinary Scholar Award from the Stanford Neurosciences Institute, an Outstanding Presentation Award from American Chemical Society, and a Best Research Award at a Gordon Research Conference.