Profiling the 50 Most: Dr. Debra Auguste

NAACP's Monique Morris congratulates Dr. Debra Auguste of Harvard on selection to 50 Most as's John Templeton looks on

Debra Auguste, Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering at the Harvard  School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS),  received her S.B. in Chemical Engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1999 and her Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from Princeton University in 2005. Before joining Harvard, she was a postdoctoral Associate at Massachusetts Institute of Technology for 2004-2006.

The focus of the Auguste lab is to develop novel biomaterials for drug delivery and tissue engineering. Its researchers are interested in directing the behavior and differentiation of cells, in most cases human embryonic stem cells, by controlling their three-dimensional cellular microenvironment. The design criteria requires the synthesis of new, biomimetic materials in coordination with regulating the rate of molecule release, immune response, targeting, and degradation. These systems are investigated for potential use in cell-based therapies.

Dr. Debra Auguste, Director Auguste Bioengineering Lab Harvard University

Cells receive information from their environment from both mechanical and chemical signaling. Biodegradable materials have been designed for tissue repair and for the controlled release of molecules. These materials may provide a surface for cells to adhere and proliferate or a conduit for encapsulation and release of molecules. We are interested in material-cell interactions that result in changes in cell behavior over periods of time using bioactive environments that activate or inhibit cellular processes. We examine the differentiation of human embryonic stem cells, the precursors of all organ tissues, to learn how they respond to chemical and environmental cues to become dedicated cells.

The spatio-temporal control of chemical cues is important in many areas: from cell differentiation to cancer research. Site-specific delivery of drugs remains a challenge. The effects of systemically administered drugs, i.e. chemotherapetuics, antifungal agents, anesthetics etc., that pose a detriment to many organs may be lessened by changing their biodistribution. The Auguste team investigates nanoparticles that passively localize to tumors and sites of inflammation through enhanced permeability and retention (EPR). Here, new, leaky vasculature and immunogenicity work to sequester drug delivery vehicles to particular sites in the body. We develop and integrate both liposome and polymer-based drug delivery vehicles to prepare systems that facilitate intracellular delivery, tumor delivery, and targeted delivery.

Our multidisciplinary research is comprised of a mixture of cellular and molecular biology, polymer chemistry, material science, and molecular modeling.