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Gali Baler, Ph.D. 

Ph.D. Biomedical Engineering, Northwestern University, 2014
M.S. Biomedical Engineering, Northwestern University 2010
B.S. Biomedical Engineering, Cornell University 2008

Contact: KevinBaler2013 at u.northwestern.edu

Research Interests: protein hydrogels, tissue engineering, biomaterials, molecular dynamics

Hydrogels derived from biological macromolecules have intrinsic properties which are attractive for numerous applications in the medical arena. We have developed and characterized a novel self-assembling protein hydrogel composed of pH-denatured bovine serum albumin which can gel at 25C. Albumin hydrogels formed by this method are stable in physiological solutions, strong acids and strong bases. The behavior of pH-denatured albumin hydrogels in acids and bases differ from that of the well-studied thermally-denatured albumin hydrogels, which dissolve completely. This evidence suggests a different gel formation mechanism is involved in the pH-denatured protein hydrogels. Theoretical and experimental approaches are used to elucidate the key driving forces involved in this mechanism with an eye towards future control and design over the hydrogel properties for drug delivery and oxygen generation applications. For the theoretical work, the GROMACS simulation package is used with an approximate model for the denaturated BSA protein. Experimental methodology includes mechanical indentation testing, rheological characterization, UV/Vis, CD, DLS, cell adhesion and toxicity tests, TEM and CryoSEM imaging. The critical protein concentration calculated experimentally is 16wt% and the strongest gels form at pH 3.5 where the albumin is in the 'fast' conformation. Preliminary in vivo biocompatibility tests in the rat model demonstrate no significant inflammatory response at 9 weeks. This work has potential applicability in multiple areas including drug delivery, tissue scaffolding, and addressing fundamental interactions involved in amyloid formation.

Selected Awards / Honors:
  • BME Research Day, Research Progress Award (2014)
  • BME Research Day Poster Competition, Second place (2012)
  • Ruth L. Kirchstein NRSA Award (2012)
  • Kellogg Management for Scientists and Engineers Program Certificate (2011)
  • CHEST Foundation Case Competition, Second Place (2009)

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