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Access Type

Open Access Thesis

Document Type


Degree Program

Molecular & Cellular Biology

Degree Type

Master of Science (M.S.)

Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded



The extracellular matrix (ECM) provides mechanical and biochemical support to tissues and cells. It is crucial for cell attachment, differentiation, and migration, as well as for ailment-associated processes such as angiogenesis, metastases and cancer development. An approach to study these phenomena is through emulation of the ECM by synthetic gels constructed of natural polymers, such as collagen and fibronectin, or simple but tunable materials such as poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) crosslinked with short peptide sequences susceptible to digestion by metalloproteases and cell-binding domains. Our lab uses PEG gels to study cell behavior in three dimensions (3D). Although this system fosters cell attachment and crosslinking peptides mentioned, the regenerative process of the ECM has not been mimicked yet in 3D synthetic gels. In an attempt to build in this functionality to PEG-based gels, I performed phage display to identify short oligopeptides that bind either collagen or fibronectin to assess them as potential nucleation points for crosslinking elements in order to emulate the in vivo reconstitution process. A phage display is a library of random oligopeptides expressed on a M13 bacteriophage that allows identification of a phenotype and a genotype with a single screening step. This inexpensive strategy could yield a short oligopeptide with high specificity. I identified the conditions under which phage display is compatible with our targets, and I isolated and identified five peptide candidates for fibronectin binding and two for collagen. Future work includes assessing whether these candidates could facilitate the formation of cell-created crosslinking in 3D synthetic hydrogels.


First Advisor

Shelly Peyton