Emily Bender ’20 and Emily Franz ’21 are investigating micelles together in Samantha Wilner’s laboratory before diverging into separate research projects on the topic. Micelles, which are made of lipids, are structured with hydrophilic heads, which happen to love water. But the micelles the two researchers are looking into have two hydrophobic tails, which don’t like water. When many lipids are placed in water, they form a sphere that is both hydrophilic with its heads facing out, and hydrophobic on the inside with all of its tails facing inward.
The goal of the research is to investigate how this can help with drug delivery. When put into water with drugs, the micelles will encapsulate the hydrophobic molecules and act like a box to hold them in place.
“The problem that we’re investigating is that micelles only form at a specific concentration, and they will fall apart really easily,” Bender explains. “They’ll fall apart if the lipid concentration is too low. If the lipid concentration is too high, they’ll form aggregates, which is not what we want. They can also interact in the body with proteins in the blood called serum proteins and that also causes them to fall apart. So, we’re trying to stabilize these micelles using nucleic acids, which are the molecules that DNA is made out of, that will be embedded in the heads of to tie it all together.”
Franz will be investigating the length of the tail size to see how it affects micelle size, while Bender will be investigating the sequence of the nucleic acids that they are embedding. They plan to combine the information they gather to find what they call a “Goldilocks” combination—one that’s just right.