COSAM News Articles 2021 November Auburn chemist designs and tests lipid-assembled micromotors

Auburn chemist designs and tests lipid-assembled micromotors

Published: 11/01/2021

By: Maria Gebhardt

For Wei Zhan, he studies small spherical assemblies of lipids in water, or liposomes, with sizes measured in microns (or micrometer, one-millionth of a meter).   

With this research, Dr. Zhan and his group are hoping to be able to produce lipid-assembled micromotors – small particles that can propel themselves toward specific locations, for example, a tumorous tissue. This type of motors is particularly attractive, because, unlike metal- and polymer-based materials, from which most current micromotors are built, lipid-based systems are biocompatible and thus has a better chance to succeed in biomedical applications.

Zhan, an associate professor, is the recipient of a $448,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) Award, Janus Liposomes in Motion. This funding is a renewal of his 2018 NSF Award for his $471,772 research on Janus Liposomes: Formation, Self-Assembly and Controlled Motion. 

In the Zhan Lab in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, he will design and test a special type of liposomes with broken symmetry, or Janus liposomes, which have two faces. 

“The two faces give these particles a built-in directionality,” he added.   

To achieve directed motion, however, these liposomes will have to be able to overcome the Brownian motion which unavoidably randomizes their movement in a liquid environment. This second NSF award gives Zhan the opportunity to test several mechanisms to achieve that.

“This work funded by the NSF seeks new ways to realize directed motion in these particles that can overcome random Brownian motion so they can navigate through predetermined paths,” Zhan said.    

“We’re grateful to have NSF’s continuous support and are excited to see what we can deliver in three years,” Zhan said. “If the intended motion is great enough, then the particles will be sent to the desired, targeted sites.”  

The research is part of a complex portfolio of accomplishments in his department.  

“Wei is conducting research that elevates the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and with more than $900,000 worth of funding through the National Science Foundation, it shows the value of his outstanding work” said Doug Goodwin, chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. “His research in this unique area of chemistry adds to an array of impressive accolades in our department and I am looking forward to seeing how this research can make a real difference.”  

Zhan’s work seeks to understand how these liposomes move and what impacts their direction will open doors to future research endeavors.   

“The Janus liposomes are named after Janus in Roman mythology with two faces,” Zhan said. “Janus was looking to the future while at the same time looking back at the past. I hope this research will lead us to more useful scientific advances here at Auburn University.”

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