Thomas S. Assali

Microbiology & Immunology

As an Immunology major, Thomas Assali has enjoyed the interdisciplinary aspect of his research. By applying the techniques of organic synthesis to biological targets, he has had the opportunity to participate in the first steps of the drug discovery process. After graduation, Thomas hopes to continue his research and move on to a graduate or professional school, possibly working toward a Ph.D. in immunology or organic chemistry. Outside the lab, Thomas enjoys traveling and plays a number of sports; he also listens to and plays music and is a particularly enthusiastic drummer.triangle.gif (504 bytes)




Although natural antibodies have become useful in medicine and science, their inefficiency and high cost make them less than ideal. Synthetic polymer nanoparticles (NPs) that bind biomolecules are of great interest as “plastic antibodies.” Plastic antibodies have the potential to duplicate the function of natural antibodies at a substantially lower cost, but too few studies have been done to characterize NPs for use in vivo. Previously, the Shea Laboratory developed methods for producing NPs that interact specifically with target biomolecules. By preparing a library of NPs, they synthesized an NP that can capture melittin, a 26-residue peptide from honey bee venom, and neutralize its hemolytic toxicity in vitro and in vivo. For NPs to be functional in vivo, they must demonstrate not only high affinity and selectivity to target proteins but also stability in different solution conditions. It is also essential to develop a complementary charged surface to the protein because proteins have complex surfaces with unique charge distributions. We introduced a zwitterion monomer in an effort to stabilize NPs over a range of pH and high salt concentrations. A series of zwitterionic NPs containing different ratios of charged monomers was prepared in an attempt to match the surfaces of target proteins. By manipulating the charge ratio, NP affinity could be “tuned” to the target peptide.triangle.gif (504 bytes)

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Faculty Mentor                                                                                                                

Kenneth J. Shea

School of Physical Sciences

Thomas Assali’s research has made important contributions to our “plastic antibody” program. We are developing abiotic synthetic polymer alternatives to antibodies and evaluating them for protein stabilization and purification, diagnostics and as therapeutic agents. Many of these nanoparticles, however, exhibited instability at low pH and/or high salt concentrations. Thomas modified them by incorporating zwitterionic functional monomers into polymerization reaction. He then established that this enhanced nanoparticle stability and efficacy, enabling their use over a wider range of conditions. Thomas is the most recent in a long line of outstanding undergraduates associated with my laboratory; all have gone on to graduate and professional school. I believe their undergraduate research experience was a key factor in their post-graduate success.triangle.gif (504 bytes)

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