Postdoctoral Fellow: Polymer Chemist

University of British Columbia

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Team overview

“Mend the Gap: A Transformative Biomaterials Platform for Spinal Cord Repair (Mend the Gap)” is an international, interdisciplinary research project that aims to develop a regenerative treatment for spinal cord injury (SCI). It is an ambitious project (https://mendthegap.ubc.ca/ ) that brings together dozens of team members across 12 academic institutions, 2 non-profit organizations, and 1 charity. Our shared goal is to achieve a viable and ethical treatment option. Six year funding for the project is provided by the Government of Canada through the New Frontiers in Research Fund (NFRF) Transformation Program.

The overall research project will involve teams focusing on developing biomaterials for cell alignment, developing biomaterials for drug release, in vitro evaluation of biomaterials to support neuron growth, and in vivo validation of those materials for guiding axons across a spinal cord injury site. More specifically at UBC, we are developing an in vitro model of the injured spinal cord, comprising neurons cultured within a three-dimensional model system and experiments will assess the biocompatibility of different materials, and measure the growth of neural cells in different biomaterials, for the purposes of maximizing the aligned, long-distance growth and viability of neurons. These materials are also tested in in vivo injury models, and combined with local drug delivery and anisotropic structures to promote axonal growth. The postdoctoral fellow’s goal is to optimize key hydrogel properties. Physical properties including stiffness, porosity, stress relaxation, topography, and chemical properties including charge density and molecular presentation, will affect not only neuron growth and neurite extension, but also the immune response to the injected biomaterials. We seek a postdoctoral researcher who will help lead efforts to synthesize, functionalize, and characterize injectable hydrogels.

The applicant who accepts this position will bring experience in chemistry, specifically the rational design, synthesis, and characterization of hydrogels for tissue engineering. The applicant will join our multidisciplinary team with complementary expertise in microfluidics, neuroscience, tissue engineering, and biomedical engineering. 

Job description 

The position is for a postdoctoral researcher who will work closely with the principal investigators of the multidisciplinary team, consisting of Principal Investigators (PIs) Prof. John DW Madden, Prof. Karen Cheung, and Prof. Jay Kizhakkedathu. Prof. Madden brings engineering expertise and oversees the overall project, as well as the development of new magnetically alignable materials. Prof. Cheung brings tissue engineering expertise and oversees the development of a microscale in vitro model. Prof. Kizhakkedathu brings biomaterials and polymer synthesis expertise, and oversees the development of new polymers. Under direction of the PIs and in collaboration with our team of postdoctoral fellows, graduate, and undergraduate students, this new postdoctoral appointment will focus on optimizing the chemical and mechanical properties of injectable hydrogels. The hydrogels will support neuron growth across the site of spinal cord injury. In our combination approach, the hydrogels will also comprise alignable nanostructures to guide neurite extension, as well as drug delivery formulations to decrease the inhibitory effects of glial scar formation. The successful applicant will also work closely with the leadership team to mentor graduate and undergraduate students.

Candidates must have a PhD (granted in the last 5 years) in Chemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Chemical and Biological Engineering, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, or a related discipline. Strong written and oral English communication skills are required. Experience working in interdisciplinary teams is strongly desired. Experience with hydrogel design and synthesis, protein and peptide conjugation, and bioactive materials is an asset. The applicant should be a self-driven leader and highly motivated researcher.

Work to be performed:

  • Tuning hydrogel properties such as stiffness, porosity, functionalization (e.g. grafting bioactive groups) for optimized injectability, biocompatibility, and neurite extension.
  • Designing synthetic polymers with accurately tailored physicochemical characteristics to have immunomodulatory functionalities.
  • Preparing hybrid hydrogels from both natural and synthetic polymers.
  • Characterizing physical and chemical properties of the hydrogels.
  • Working with our interdisciplinary team to design and validate in vitro assays, including assessing biocompatibility of the materials.
  • Mentoring and training graduate and undergraduate students.
  • Maintaining up-to-date records of project progress and assisting with project management.
  • Evaluating the promise and risks of possible hydrogel materials, and providing feedback to help streamline and optimize these materials. This will include identification of risks in the path to translation, and helping mitigate these risks.
  • Assisting in ensuring that our teams are following Good Laboratory Practice.

Qualifications desired:

  • Experience  in chemical/polymer synthesis, peptide synthesis and grafting, purification, chemical characterization
  • Experience with polysaccharide-based hydrogels
  • (preferred) Experience with oscillatory rheology, mechanical characterization, confocal microscopy, fluorescence microscopy
  • (preferred) Experience with tissue engineering
  • (optional) Experience with mentoring, preparation of grant proposals

Minimum requirements:

  • Doctorate degree in Chemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Chemical and Biological Engineering, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, or a related discipline with an excellent publication record
  • Exceptional candidates without a doctorate degree but with several years of equivalent experience can contact our team to discuss the availability of alternate positions
  • Graduating thesis in the field of hydrogel synthesis and modification for tissue engineering or a related topic.

To apply:

Please provide the following: a one-page letter of intent that includes a statement of your research interest, a detailed curriculum vitae, a PDF copy or a link to one of your recent and related peer-reviewed publications, and the names of three references.

Complete application packages should be directed to:

Dr. Tara Caffrey

Email: [email protected]

Subject Line: Postdoctoral Fellow, Polymer Chemist

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