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The Levinson Emerging Scholars Program

Hunter Bennett - Bioengineering

Hunter BennettHunter Bennett is a junior in the Department of Bioengineering. Upon arriving at UW in Fall 2010, he was amazed at the work being done across campus to create novel systems for disease treatment and prevention and sought to get involved as a way to apply what he had learned in high school and to make a positive change in the medical field. This interest in research led him to the lab of Dr. Kim Woodrow in the Department of Bioengineering where it grew into a passion. In the Woodrow Lab, Hunter investigates the potential of cell-seeded hydrogel systems to induce mucosal and systemic immunity to HIV. He is also involved in a project investigating the chemokines responsible for dendritic cell recruitment during acute HIV-1 infection at the vaginal mucosa. Over last summer, Hunter participated in the Amgen Scholars Program at UCLA where he worked on social signaling in African Trypanosomes under Dr. Kent Hill in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Molecular genetics. After graduation Hunter plans to follow his passion for research by pursuing a PhD. Outside of lab, Hunter enjoys running, playing basketball and reading.

Mentor: Kim Woodrow, Bioengineering

Project Title: Encapsulation of Cell Based Therapeutics for the Prevention of HIV Infection

Abstract: The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a cause of widespread global suffering infects 2.7 million new patients each year. No cure exists for HIV and many experts believe that the disease will only be eradicated through the development of an effective vaccine. Virus-like particle (VLP) based vaccines capable of lowering the rates of HIV infection are promising but have been limited in application by their short half life in vivo and requirement of significant medical infrastructure. The implantation of cell lines producing HIV VLPs into patients represents a potentially cost-effective strategy for providing long-term protection from the HIV virus. Different alginate-based microcapsules will be made using electrostatic droplet generation. Particles will be examined for stability in conditions modeling that of common implantation sites, with promising microcapsules proceeding to cell viability studies. Results from cell viability studies will be used to select microcapsule formulations capable of sustaining healthy cell populations for long periods of time in vivo. 293T cells transfected with either the HIV gag gene or the HIV env gene will then be seeded in the microcapsules and assessed for its ability to elicit an anti-HIV antibody response and lower rates of infection in both cell and animal models. The goal of this research is to produce a cell-seeded alginate based microcapsule system capable of lowering rates of HIV transmission over extended periods of time.