Dr. Monica Serban received her PhD in Medicinal Chemistry in 2007 from University of Utah, under the mentorship of Dr. Glenn Prestwich. During that time, she was part of the Center for Therapeutic Biomaterials, where her work was focused on syntheses and characterization of novel hyaluronic acid (HA)-based biomaterials with therapeutic applications. In fall 2007, she joined Dr. David Kaplan’s laboratory at Tufts University as a Ruth L. Kirschstein postdoctoral fellow. During her tenure at Tufts, her projects were focused on the development novel silk based biomaterials. In 2010, she took her first industry position with Tengion, a development-stage regenerative medicine company, where her biomaterials expertise was leveraged for the development of novel scaffold systems for the injectable delivery of autologous cells into diseased organs. In 2011, Dr. Serban joined Allergan Medical’s Product Development team, where her role was focused on driving medical device innovation, intellectual portfolio enhancement, and new technology design and development. Prior to joining the University of Montana, Dr. Serban was a lecturer at Tufts University.
Advanced Materials Characterization I (MTSI 551) - The course provides an overview of fundamental principles of analytical, biological and mechanical material characterization techniques in the context of academic and industrial research, complemented with particular emphasis on most commonly used instruments and methods. Students will be familiarized with the most common material characterization instruments and techniques from both academic and industrial settings, and will improve their critical thinking, experimental design and communication abilities through the class project and assignments.
Medical Devices (BMED 595/PHAR 491) - The course focuses on the medical device product development process with particular emphasis on implantable devices. Research, regulatory, manufacturing and commercialization hurdles associated with translating a concept into a commercialized product are discussed. Students will learn to employ the fundamental principles of materials and biological systems for product development, identify the regularoty agencies and regulations associated with the commercialization of a device, understand and describe the medical device product development process , conduct risk management activities and identify device failure modes.
The central theme of our research is biomaterials. We synthesize new ones, build on existing ones, reinvent old ones. Our current building blocks are hyaluronan, silk fibroin, gelatin and glucaric acid. While our emphasis is on biomedical and therapeutic applications of biomaterials, we're curious minds and seek to find novel and exciting applications for our projects. From engineering artificial skin, creating wearable sensors, to synthesizing and characterizing materials for analytical applications or in vitro diagnostic systems for bacterial detection, we keep researching and innovating.
Reversible, thixotropic 3D cell culture systems
Three-dimensional cell cultures closely mimic the physiological environment of cells. Currently available 3D culturing systems lack the ability to easily recover entrapped cells for subsequent analyses or subculturing. This project is focused on closely recapitulating the physiological extracellular matrix while creating a dynamic and reversible 3D culturing system via thixotropy. The intrinsic sol-gel transition properties of such materials would allow cells to be cultured under native-like conditions then allow their easy recovery via centrifugation for subsequent analyses and/or subculturing. Such system would be especially useful for eliminating or minimizing genetic drift in microengineered tumor organoids currently used for chemotherapeutics screening. In partnership with our collaborator Dr. Aleksander Skardal, a tissue engineering expert from Wake Forrest Institute for Regenerative Medicine working on microengineered tumors, we are now focused on developing and validating an in vitro tool to facilitate maintenance and passaging of genotypically-preserved primary human tumor cell populations.
Slow-release antibacterial system for otic therapeutics
Ear infections are a commonly occurring problem that can affect people of all ages. Treatment of these pathologies usually includes the administration of topical or systemic antibiotics, depending on the location of the infection. Otitis externa (OE, outer ear infections) can have various etiologies. However, bacterial infections (typically attributable to Pseudomonas aeruginosa or Staphylococcus aureus) account for approximately 98% of all cases. OE treatment regimes prescribe topical analgesics, locally acidifying solutions (2% acetic acid) and/or antibiotic eardrops. Topical antibiotic drops are preferred to their oral counterparts as the therapeutic is delivered directly to the infected tissue. Still, they require multiple daily applications over 7-10 days, and studies show that only 40% of patients who self-medicate do so appropriately with the effectiveness of the therapy increasing when someone else other than the patient applies the drops. In this context, are investigating the feasibility of a single-application slow-releasing therapeutic formulation of an antibiotic for the treatment of otitis externa. The in vitro evaluations conducted so far, reflective of therapeutic ease of administration, formulation stability, cytocompatibility assessment, antibacterial efficacy, and formulation lifespan, indicate that our developed formulations, based on thixotropic, antibiotic releasing materials are promising for development as otic therapeutics for both human and veterinary applications.
Silk-based tissue sealant for seroma prevention
A seroma is defined as a pocket of fluid accumulation when tissues have been separated surgically. The incidence of seroma correlates with procedures that disrupt large amounts of tissue, such as hernia repair or abdominoplasty. Preventive and therapeutic measures include placement of surgical drains at the site of the incision. However, this procedure increases the risk of infection and extends healing time. Our project is aimed at investigating silk fibroin adhesives as a potential prophylactic for seroma. This would be achieved by engineering a device that would adhere/bridge the separated tissue planes, thus preventing shear friction and fluid accumulation between them and accelerating tissue regeneration. Our preliminary data indicates that silk fibroin elicits tissue adhesive properties and that they are dependent on silk solution concentration, pH and overall tertiary structure of the protein.
Silk-fibroin based wound healing devices
Our goal is to engineer an adhesive acellular wound healing device based on silk fibroin (SF) and hyaluronan (HA) that would be self-immobilizing and regenerative for full thickness wounds. Our preliminary data show that: (a) lyophilized foam-like SF sheets (SF foams) have skin-like feel, coloration and texture when layered on skin – suggesting that SF foams may be suitable as cutaneous healing devices; (b) the surface of SF foams is micro-porous – which may impart moisture retention properties needed for wound healing; (c) thin films of physically uncrosslinked SF have adhesive properties - suggesting that tissue adherent, self-fixing constructs may be formulated with no added chemicals or biomaterials; and (e) the cytocompatibility of SF constructs improves with the addition of HA – indicating that this parameter may be tailored for optimal wound healing and tissue compatibility.
Biomaterial-based therapeutics for cytomegalovirus induced hearing loss
Approximately 1 out of 150 infants are born annually in the United States with congenital cytomegalovirus (CMV) infections. One of the effects of CMV infection is sensorineural hearing loss that is associated with further developmental sequelae. In collaboration with Dr. Albert Park, Chief Pediatric ENT Specialist from the University of Utah School of Medicine, we are working on developing and evaluating a hyaluronan-based otoprotective agents. Based on our existing preliminary data, we hypothesize that HA-derived antioxidants would prevent and potentially reverse the ototoxic effects of CMV.
Sustainable, glucaric acid-based material systems for controlled release applications
This project was initiated in partnership with a local company, Rivertop Renewables and was focused on characterizing and identifying potential applications of glucaric acid (GA) based hydrogels. In 2004, d-GA was identified as one of the top value added chemicals from renewable natural sources. For the project, a Rivertop Renewable patented synthetic method was used to obtain polymers through the polycondensation of GA and several aliphatic diamines. Under specific conditions, these polymers can form hydrogels with a nanoparticulate architecture. Our initial focus is to investigate the suitability of these materials as controlled release systems for small molecules.
Lecturer, Tufts University, Biomedical Engineering Department, January 2015 – May 2015
Senior Scientist, Medical Device Product Development Group, Allergan Medical (Medford, MA), July 2011 – November 2014
Scientist, Biomaterials Research & Development Group, Tengion (Winston-Salem, NC), July 2010 - July 2011
Postdoctoral Associate, Department of Biomedical Engineering, Tufts University (Medford, MA), November 2007 - June 2010