Robert van Lith, Ph.D.
Ph.D. Biomedical Engineering, Northwestern University
Contact: r-lith at northwestern.edu
Research Interests: Nitric oxide delivery, antioxidants, biomaterials, vascular tissue engineering
Recently, the role of induced oxidative stress and its resulting effects on biomaterial compatibility and pathophysiological conditions has been given increasing attention. Oxidative stress, the imbalance between the amount of reactive oxygen species and antioxidant defense system, can result when either excessive levels of free radicals build up locally at the site of implantation, or when natural antioxidant systems are impaired, or a combination of both. This imbalance can lead to chronic inflammation at the implant site with potential permanent tissue damage and scarring, as well as degeneration of the biomaterial itself and loss of function.
Furthermore, oxidative stress is known to be involved with a long list of physiological conditions, including cardiovascular disease (e.g. atherosclerosis) , neurodegenerative disease (e.g. Alzheimer), wound healing, auto-immune disorders and cancers.
The evidence of the key role of oxidative stress in so many conditions has led to large-scale investigation into reducing stress levels, primarily by delivery of antioxidant therapies. But, as systemic delivery is unlikely to lead to sufficient levels of the active form of antioxidants at the site of interest, focus has more recently shifted towards the localized delivery and/or generation of ROS-lowering therapies. Incorporation of such therapies in (implantable) biomaterials would provide an ideal platform for local, targeted oxidative stress alleviation. Yet, many biomaterials routinely used for implantation, particularly degradable ones such as poly-lactic acid or polycaprolcatione-based types, are known to induce oxidative stress locally. My research therefore focuses on the concept of degradable biomaterials with intrinsic antioxidant properties embedded in polymers' structures, which has great potential to provide high ROS-lowering activity as long as the polymer is present.
Ultimately, we hope to achieve significant in vivo attenuation of oxidative stress and concomitant alleviation of oxidative stress-related conditions.Selected Awards / Honors: