Alison Douglas

Department: Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering

Graduate Program: Biomedical Engineering

Advisor: Thomas Barker, PhD

Lab Website

Research Summary:

Current fibrin matrices/sealants used for wound healing applications utilize high concentrations of fibrinogen and thrombin, forming a dense matrix in order to form a stable clot. We have designed materials to be incorporated into fibrin scaffolds that will create a mechanically robust clot, but allow for increased cell infiltration and regeneration. As a member of the IGERT program and Thomas Barker's Laboratory of Matrix Biology and Engineering, the overall goals of my current research are to engineer fibrin networks to promote endogenous progenitor cell homing and infiltration for enhanced wound healing and tissue regeneration. Through incorporating ultra low cross-linked pNIPAm microgels into fibrin gels, we can modulate the matrix architecture and mechanical properties of the local cellular microenvironment. Additionally, we aim to load microgels with chemokines to recruit specific cell populations to sites of tissue injury. Through harnessing the chemistry and physics of this colloid-matrix assembly, we are engineering biomaterial constructs for enhanced regeneration.

The goal of this work is to engineer fibrin-based biomaterials to enhance wound healing and progenitor cell recruitment to sites of injury. Hydrogel microparticles (microgels) are incorporated into fibrin gels to alter the network microstructure and mechanics to enhance cell infiltration while simultaneously delivering therapeutic chemokines to promote tissue regeneration.


Alison attended Tulane University in New Orleans, LA and received an undergraduate degree in biomedical engineering with departmental honors in 2010. She studied in the laboratory of Dr.David Rice investigating a thermal therapy device for the treatment of cutaneous leishmaniasis and developing a mathematical model for heat flow through tissues. This work was compiled into an honors research thesis and was presented at the 2010 Tulane Health Sciences Research Days. She became a member of Tau Beta Pi engineering honors fraternity in 2007 and served as the president of her sorority. She was also a part of an undergraduate research team for the NCIIA BME Start competition that designed a malaria retinopathy automated detector device and received third place in the national competition.

After exploring device design with a focus on providing biomedical solutions for resource poor areas, for her graduate career, she decided to participate in research at the cellular and molecular scale, with a specific interest in projects with applications to stem cell biology and engineering. When accepted to Georgia Tech, she was thrilled to become a part of such a prestigious graduate program and was especially excited to be a part of the first group of students in the NSF Stem Cell Biomanufacturing IGERT. Over the summer prior to starting graduate school, she rotated in the laboratory of Dr.Gang Bao. There, she worked on a project using molecular beacons for targeting RNA in live cells for isolating stem cells from mixed cell populations. 

In the fall of 2010, she joined the laboratory of Dr.Thomas Barker to study extracellular matrix biology and engineering. In her first two years in the Barker Lab, she was able to compile her work into a poster presentation titled "Monitoring matrix elasticity-mediated MSC phenotypes through the characterization of cell-matrix adhesions" for the 2012 Hilton Head Regenerative Medicine Workshop focused on harnessing biology for regeneration. Her project is now geared towards understanding the biochemical and mechanical cues within fibrin matrices that can be modulated to recruit stem cell populations to damaged tissues. Currently, she is exploring how the addition of soft microgel particles, pNIPAm microgels, affect fibrin matrix architecture, mechanics, and their impact on cell phenotype. This work was presented at a poster titled "Altering Fibrin Matrix Properties with pNIPAm Microgels for Wound Healing Applications" at the 2013 Society for Biomaterials conference in Boston, MA. In addition to modulating the structure of local microenvironment, she is interested how the pNIPAm particles may be used to deliver specific cues/ chemokines to recruit specific stem cell populations to sites of injury. More recently, she published a review article in Current Opinions in Colloid and Interface Science titled "Colloid-matrix assemblies in regenerative medicine" in collaboration with Kim Clarke from the Lyon group in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry. 

As an active member of the IGERT program, Alison has engaged in community outreach through presenting stem cell biology and engineering lectures at local high schools in Atlanta.

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Will support her research over the next 2 years.