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Medtech Impact on Wellness

BIO: Dr. Jeannine M. Coburn is an Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Her group’s research interests are in developing novel functional biomaterials for biomedical applications. Her group uses silk, chondroitin sulfate, bacterial-derived cellulose, and decellularized plant cell matrices as the scaffolding “blocks” for the biomaterials and utilized basic chemistry principles and techniques from synthetic chemistry and genetic engineering to impart unique material properties. Her research is highly collaborative in nature; she works with other scientist, engineers, and clinicians to address medical needs relevant to drug therapeutics, tissue engineering, and in vitro disease model.

Dr. Coburn received a B.S. in Chemical Engineering at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and her Ph.D. in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering from Johns Hopkins University under the mentorship of Dr. Jennifer H. Elisseeff. After completing her Ph.D., she did her postdoctoral training under the mentorship of Dr. David L. Kaplan at Tufts University. She was a recipient of the predoctoral (2010-2012) and postdoctoral (2014-2016) Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) Individual Fellowship. Her research is currently funded by the DoD and NIH.

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You probably didn’t realize that you’re likely wearing a material that can serve as the foundation of biomaterials used for a variety of functions, including drug delivery, tissue regeneration, and in vitro disease modelling. That’s right, Jeannine Coburn, PhD is an assistant professor at Worcester Polytechnic Institute who is altering silk fibroin—a material found in most articles of clothing—to create unique properties that could have a number of biomedical applications. In addition to silk fibroin, Dr. Coburn and her team are working with chondroitin sulfate and bacteria and plant-derived cellulose for testing methods of tissue regeneration and studying disease processes that occur in the body.

One of the main focuses of Dr. Coburn’s lab is on intratumoral drug delivery—the delivery of drugs locally inside cancerous tumors rather than systemically as conventionally done today.

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In order to do this, they are considering different drug delivery modifications that will allow the drugs to act more or less with the material in which they are enclosed, thereby allowing for control over the rate at which the drugs are released into tumors. In this way, the drug delivery system would mimic that of conventional practices while minimizing the many negative effects of chemotherapy on the body’s organs.

Dr. Coburn discusses the main challenge of this pursuit—namely the problem of rejection by the body. In other words, how can they prevent the body from encapsulating and attacking the drug that it identifies as a foreign body? Answering this question leads to an informative and intriguing conversation about the body’s mechanism of immune response, inflammatory responses, and how cancer cells shut off their immune recognition and how that can be modelled in vitro for the study of immunotherapy drugs used to treat cancer.

Interested in learning more? Tune in for the full conversation and don’t hesitate to contact Dr.

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Coburn directly by email at
Follow twitter: @FuncBioMatLab


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