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Designing phlegm: Trine student researches synthetic mucus for summer REU

PessellWhile those suffering with a cold or allergies only want mucus to go away, one Trine University biomedical engineering major spent 10 weeks trying to find effective methods for producing more of it.

Alexander Pessell, from Arcadia, Ohio, spent the summer of 2019 conducting a research experience for undergraduates (REU) at the University of Maryland in the university’s Fischell Department of Bioengineering.

Pessell specifically researched “Cross-linker Geometry Influence on Mucin-based Hydrogels” under the supervision of Katherine Joyner, Ph.D., in the Gregg Duncan, Ph.D., lab. Mucin-based hydrogels are used to mimic the mucus found in healthy patients as well as those with pulmonary diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma or cystic fibrosis.

The project combined various types of polyethylene glycol (PEG), used to form hydrogels, with bovine and porcine mucin (protein secretions that form the basis of mucus) to see which were the most effective at forming hydrogels with the properties needed.

The research is part of the lab’s overall effort to engineer mucin materials for use in biology and medicine, and its mission to broaden understanding of lung airways in order to develop diagnostic and therapeutic approaches for diseases that impact those airways.

Pessell presented his research at the 2019 Biomedical Engineering Society National Conference in October and won the Best REU Project award at Trine’s third annual STEM Symposium in December. 

Photo: Alexander Pessell presents his research at Trine University's STEM Symposium.