The Zha Lab seeks to create new biohybrid materials to tackle significant problems facing human healthcare and sustainability. Inspired by naturally occurring systems and phenomena, we synthesize functional materials that incorporate both biological and non-biological components. As is the case in nature, our materials are structured across multiple length scales, and supramolecular self-assembly lies at the foundation of our work. Our research is highly interdisciplinary and incorporates molecular engineering & synthesis, nanoscale characterization, materials development, and in vitro & in vivo assays. Read more to learn about the main research project interests within the Zha Group.
Antimicrobial resistance is a growing global concern. Conventional antibiotics are susceptible to bacterial resistance, as they rely on specific cellular targets which may readily undergo adaptation. In contrast, host defense peptides secreted by numerous organisms found in nature are capable of killing bacteria through targeting multiple hydrophobic and/or anionic cellular components. These peptides form amphipathic secondary structures and supramolecular assemblies to mediate their function through mechanisms less susceptible to resistance (e.g. membrane poration). By understanding and mimicking these naturally occurring host defense peptides using synthetic supramolecular systems, we seek to capture their efficacy while improving in vivo stability, specificity, versatility, and production cost.
Silk-inspired coatings and materials
Silk is a supramolecular material with exceptional properties as a mechanically robust, biocompatible material. Our research leverages the self-assembly of silk protein into insoluble nano-thin coatings under aqueous and substrate-independent conditions. In particular, we are interested in exploring these coatings as antimicrobial, drug-eluting, non-fouling, or bioelectronic interfaces. Furthermore, we aim to synthesize silk-mimetic polymers, which will allow us to understand and tailor the relationship between chemical structure, nanoscale morphology, and material properties.