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The Washington Research Foundation Fellowship

Hunter Bennett, Bioengineering

Hunter BennettHunter 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: Nanoporous Capsule for Sustained Delivery of Immunogenic HIV Virus Like Particles

Abstract: Despite decades of research, our best attempts at formulating a vaccine for the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) have failed. Recent work in mucosal immunology and virology has highlighted the importance of the mucosal immune system in the successful infection of a host after mucosal exposure to HIV. A vaccine formulation that effectively induces humoral and cellular immune responses in the vaginal mucosa could clear local HIV populations before the virus is able to gain a foothold in the body. The proposed project will develop a novel vaginal mucosal HIV vaccine using therapeutic cell encapsulation. Briefly, a transgenic cell line producing HIV virus-like particles (VLPs) will be entrapped within a nanoporous polycaprolactone (PCL) capsule optimized to release VLPs. Release of the VLPs and viability of entrapped cells will be studied over long periods of time and controlled by an electrospun PCL membrane. Finally, the ability of the cell-based vaccine to interact with dendritic cells will be studied through the bone marrow dendritic cell uptake assay and the mixed lymphocyte reaction assay. This work would represent the first use of cell encapsulation technology to create a vaccine. If successful, this project could generate essential data that could be used to develop novel mucosal HIV vaccine for human testing.