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Balaji Rao


Engineering Building I (EB1) 2088C


Proteins mediate and control several cellular processes. For instance, cytokine binding to cell surface receptor can trigger a series of biochemical reactions leading to outcomes such as proliferation, differentiation or death. Aberrant protein-mediated processes are involved in pathological states such as cancer. Our central hypothesis is that manipulating molecular interactions through engineered proteins can be used to understand and ultimately control cellular processes.

We have the capability to engineer biophysical properties of proteins such as binding affinity and thermal stability as well as soluble protein expression. We use powerful protein engineering tools such as yeast surface display and mRNA display to generate proteins with desired properties. These proteins enable us to study and ultimately control cellular processes and may potentially be clinically relevant.

We are particularly interested in the area of stem cell bioengineering. Stem cells are “master” cells that can self-renew as well as develop into many different cell types. Stem cells have great potential in regenerative medicine. They can also be used as a basis to develop model systems for drug evaluation. One of the major challenges in this area is to understand and control the molecular decisions that control stem cell fate. Our approach involves the use of engineered proteins to quantitatively study and ultimately control molecular interactions that govern stem cell fate.

Research Focus Areas: Molecular and Cell Bioengineering, Molecular Control of Cellular Processes, Stem Cell Bioengineering.

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