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Ronit Freeman, PhD, is a UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center member interested in how cells coordinate several extracellular matrix factors acting on different length and time scales to make fate decisions.

Associate Professor, Applied Physical Sciences
UNC-Chapel Hill
Molecular Therapeutics

Area of Interest

There is a growing appreciation of the role that the extracellular matrix (ECM) plays in regulating cell behavior. Mechanical, structural, and compositional cues, either alone or in concert, can drastically alter cell function. We are interested in understanding how cells coordinate several ECM factors acting on different length and time scales to make fate decisions. We use synthetic biology and supramolecular chemistry approaches to construct reconfigurable ECM platforms that allow user-defined control over the structure, physical properties and display of key biochemical signals on multiple time and length scales. Using these responsive scaffolds, we systematically study how cells coordinate several ECM factors (soluble and bound signals, ECM fibrous architecture, topography and mechanics) and convert this information into a certain cellular fate (directed cell migration). As we better understand the molecular code by which cells sense and respond to changes in their environment, we have become interested in applying this knowledge to engineer designer cell-ECM scaffolds that carry out regenerative or therapeutic functions, such as sensing and destroying cancer, wound healing or reversing fibrosis.

We have been collaborating with Shawn Hingtgen’s lab to exploit our peptide materials to create tailored tumor-homing cells with superior migration properties and triggered release of anti-cancer therapies, as well as designer CAR-T cells for improved killing.

Another thrust in our lab centers around sensing of cancer biomarkers (extracellular and intracellular) using DNA and RNA aptamers and DNA nanotechnology and origami approaches.

Our lab is composed of scientists from diverse fields (chemistry, cell biology, synthetic biology, medicine, engineering, physics) who are interested in applying interdisciplinary approaches to cutting edge problems in an exciting, collaborative environment.

Awards and Honors

  • Eshelman Institute for Innovation Award, 2020
  • Collaborative Innovation Award, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, 2019
  • Named Scialog Fellow, Research Corporation for Science Advancement, 2019
  • Cystic Fibrosis Foundation Research Award, 2019
  • Rising Stars of Simpson Querrey Institute for BioNanotechnology, 2017
  • European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) Postdoctoral Fellowship, 2013-2016
  • The Charles Clore Fellowship for outstanding PhD students in natural sciences, 2010-2012
  • Converging Technologies Fellowship for excellent PhD students, 2008-2009
  • The Ilan Ramon Foundation Award for excellent graduate students, 2007
  • The Klein Fellowship for academic excellence, 2006

Find publications on PubMed

News and Stories

Headshot of Ronit Freeman