Overall, the Babensee Laboratory is focused on defining design criteria for new biomaterials with improved host responses through a fundamental understanding of the in vivo failure mechanisms of current biomaterials. In a specific manner, Dr. Babensee’s research program is in the area of immunoengineering using biomaterial-based strategies to direct immune responses for applications in regenerative medicine, autoimmunity, transplantation and vaccines. As such, her research is directed at understanding biomaterial-based effects on the phenotype of key regulators of immune responses, the professional antigen presenting cells, dendritic cells (DCs) and developing biomaterial-based strategies for directed DC-dependent immunomodulation for control of immune outcomes. Application areas include immune acceptance of transplanted cells and tissue engineered (TE) devices, shifting destructive autoimmune responses towards tolerance for autoimmune disease attenuation, and non-viral carriers for vaccines wherein the goal is establishing a protective immune response.
Dendritic cells (DCs), the most potent antigen presenting cells, are critical in bridging innate to adaptive immunity as well as inducing immune tolerance. The central role of DCs as gatekeepers to the initiation of immune responses renders the temporal control of their phenotype particularly important in situations where immune responses are harnessed in combination productions, such as tissue engineering or vaccine delivery applications. Controlling the phenotype of DCs through the biomaterial component to direct the host responseis a novel immunomodulation strategy.