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The Washington Research Foundation Fellowship
Hunter Bennett, Bioengineering
Hunter Bennett is a Senior in the Department of Bioengineering. Upon arriving at the University of Washington in 2010, he was amazed by the innovative work being done across campus to create novel therapies for disease. Hunter’s passion for translating scientific knowledge into treatments led him to join the lab of Dr. Kim Woodrow in the Department of Bioengineering. The Woodrow Lab centers on developing novel biomaterials to prevent sexually transmitted diseases and empower women in 3rd world countries. Within the Woodrow Lab, Hunter investigates the potential of cell-seeded hydrogel systems to induce mucosal and systemic immunity to HIV. Hunter is also involved in a project investigating the molecular basis of dendritic cell movement in the vaginal mucosa. Hunter has also worked under Dr. Kent Hill in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Molecular Genetics at UCLA, where he worked to understand social signaling in African Trypanosomes. Through his studies and personal experience Hunter has developed an interest in the intersection of medicine and scientific research, and after graduation he hopes to follow this interest by pursuing an MD/PhD. Outside of the laboratory and classroom, Hunter enjoys running, lifting weights, and rooting for the Husky basketball and football teams.
Mentor: Kim Woodrow, Bioengineering
Project Title: Cell-Based Therapeutic System for Lowering Rates of Mucosal HIV Transmission
Abstract: Recent work in immunology and virology illuminates the key role of the mucosal immune system in HIV pathogenesis. Eliminating HIV during the earliest stages of mucosal infection will have the greatest impact to prevent systemic dissemination of the virus. Vaccines designed to elicit humoral and cellular immunity within the mucous membrane, at the site of infection, could realistically reduce rates of transmission amongst high-risk populations. 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 optimized for stability, release of HIV-size nanoparticles, and cell biocompatibility. Promising microcapsule formulations will be used to encapsulate transgenic 293T cells expressing fluorescent HIV VLPs. The ability of these microencapsulated HIV VLP factories to allow long term cell growth and provide sustained release of HIV-1 VLPs will be examined. Finally, the immunostimulatory capacity of the formulated HIV VLP systems will be evaluated using in vitro dendritic cell assays. The goal of this research is to produce a cell-seeded alginate based microcapsule system capable of inducing a mucosal HIV response that could realistically lower the rate of HIV transmission over extended periods of time in vivo.