Date of Award


Document type


Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Polymer Science and Engineering

First Advisor

Todd S. Emrick

Second Advisor

Murugappan Muthukumar

Third Advisor

Craig T. Martin

Subject Categories

Materials Science and Engineering | Polymer and Organic Materials


Utilizing the diverse functionality of amino acids, a new class of amphiphilic graft copolymers has been synthesized, characterized, and explored for applications in biomaterials and nucleic acid delivery. This thesis research focused on the syntheses of oligopeptide-functionalized polyesters and polyolefins. Polyester functionalization was geared towards applications in biomaterials, tissue engineering, and drug delivery by incorporating sequences that promote cell-adhesion. These polyester- graft -oligopeptide materials were prepared by a 1,3-Huisgen cycloaddition reaction, "click" chemistry, of an azide-terminated oligopeptide (prepared by Fmoc-based solid phase peptide synthesis (SPPS)) and alkyne-containing polyester (synthesized by ring-opening polymerization). Following the syntheses of these materials, they were analyzed by nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) and organic gel permeation chromatography (GPC). The oligopeptide-functionalized polyolefins were designed for nucleic acid complexation, and therefore the oligopeptide sequences were intended to incorporate positively-charged moieties ( e.g. , oligolysine) for DNA and short interfering RNA (siRNA) complexation. These graft copolymers, prepared by SPPS followed by ring-opening metathesis polymerization, have highly tunable structures that enable control over charge density and polymer backbone rigidity. Moreover, non-ionic hydrophilic grafts such as polyethylene glycol were integrated into these polyelectrolytes such that the charges along the polymer backbone are spaced accordingly while maintaining the hydrophilicity of the polymer. While numerous applications for such charged, "bio-tailored" materials can be envisioned, this work is geared towards positively-charged polyelectrolytes for their potential application in nucleic acid therapy, specifically the delivery of plasmid DNA and siRNA. These graft copolymers were characterized ( 1 H, 13 C NMR, organic and aqueous GPC), studied for their solution properties (static and dynamic light scattering), and investigated as polyplexes with plasmid DNA.