Blanka Sharma, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering J. Crayton Pruitt Family Term Fellow
University of Florida
Title: Engineering Biomaterials to Modulate Inflammatory Mechanisms During Tissue Injury and Tumor Progression
Exciting advances have been made in the discovery of therapeutic molecules and cells to more effectively treat numerous devastating medical conditions. However, their successful application in patients is curtailed by significant challenges in effectively delivering these therapeutics where an injury or disease is localized. Dr. Sharma’s research program aims to address these challenges by engineering biomaterials capable of presenting biological signals in a site specific manner within the body. The first part of this talk will focus on drug delivery challenges for the treatment of osteoarthritis. Dr. Sharma will describe her group’s work to overcome barriers to effective drug delivery within joint, by exploiting specific nanoparticle-extracellular matrix interactions to improve tissue targeting and retention of therapeutic molecules within OA joints. The second part of this talk will focus on cell delivery challenges in cancer immunotherapies, whereby solid tumors create a local immunosuppressive microenvironment that diminish immune cell surveillance and facilitate tumor progression. Dr. Sharma’s laboratory is applying biomaterials to understand how the tumor microenvironment impacts the homing and activation of natural killer (NK) cells, and developing RNA delivery strategies to harness their cancer killing functions. Mitigating dysfunctional inflammatory mechanisms is key to both tissue remodeling and cancer progression, and Dr. Sharma’s group works at the intersection of these fields.
Dr. Sharma is an Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Florida. Her research investigates fundamental biomaterial-cell interactions to develop targeted drug and cell delivery systems for applications ranging from tissue repair to cancer therapy. Dr. Blanka Sharma received her undergraduate degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Waterloo (Waterloo, Ontario, Canada), her Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, MD) in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, and her postdoctoral training at the Cleveland Clinic (Cleveland, OH). Dr. Sharma served as Director of Research for Cartilix Inc. from 2005-2009, a start-up company based on her doctoral research, where she worked towards clinical translation of a hydrogel technology for cartilage repair in the knee. After starting her faculty position in 2014 at the University of Florida, Dr. Sharma was featured by the American Society for Engineering Education as one of “20 Under 40” Outstanding Junior Faculty in the U.S. More recently, Dr. Sharma received the National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) award. In recognition of her teaching, mentorship, and research, Dr. Sharma received the Pramod P. Khargonekar Junior Faculty Award for Excellence in 2020 from the UF College of Engineering.
Department of Chemical Engineering