University of Minnesota
Department of Biomedical Engineering

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Wei Shen

Wei Shen








Engineering of Biomaterials and Cellular Microenvironments, Cell-Environment Interactions, Biomolecular Engineering


We are interested in molecular engineering of novel biomaterials and investigation of structure-property-function relationships of these materials. The applications of these materials include tissue regeneration, stem cell fate regulation, drug delivery, and imaging contrasts. The biomaterials we are developing are based on chemically synthesized polymers and biosynthesized protein-polymers. We harness unique and smart characteristics of protein domains and use them as building blocks that serve as carriers, bioactive motifs, and structural components.

Tissue Engineering and Artificial Stem Cell Niches

Regenerative medicine holds a big promise to cure many human diseases. The advances in stem cell biology provide unlimited and even patient-specific stem cell sources to create functional tissues and disease models. The success of the field relies on our ability to provide instructive extracellular environmental cues to guide cell behavior and fate selection. We use the novel biomaterials engineered in our laboratory, in combination with the concepts derived from developmental biology and microfabrication technologies, to build precisely controlled artificial niches to guide stem cell fate selection and tissue regeneration.  

Drug Delivery

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States. Although numerous drugs with potent anticancer activities have been found, attempts to convert laboratory results into clinical interventions have limited success. Such unfortunate outcome is largely due to lack of optimized drug carriers. Ideal carriers for anticancer drugs should have targeting ability to bring drugs exclusively to cancer cells while keeping healthy cells unaffected. In addition, the size of the carriers should be controlled so that they are large enough to avoid rapid clearance in kidney but small enough to cross blood vessels and move through the interstitial space of solid tumors to access all malignant cells. Drug carriers lacking efficient targeting ability and proper sizes lead to severe toxic side effects and failure to eradicate cancer cells. We are developing novel targeted nanocarriers for anticancer drugs to enhance the efficacy and safety of cancer treatments.

Selected Publications

Yang Liu, Xintong Wang, Dan Kaufman, Wei Shen, "A Synthetic Substrate to Support Early Mesodermal Differentiation of Human Embryonic Stem Cells," Biomaterials, accepted (2011).
Yang Liu, Bo Liu, Jeremiah J. Riesberg, Wei Shen, "In Situ Forming Physical Hydrogels for Three-dimensional Tissue Morphogenesis," Macromolecular Bioscience, DOI: 10.1002/mabi.201100119 (2011).
*This paper has been featured on the materials science news site of Wiley-VCH,, in an article written by Hilary Gallagher, titled, "The Revolving Door Approach: Physically Stabilized Hydrogels that Permit Cell Movement."
Bo Liu, Yang Liu, Jeremiah J. Riesberg, and Wei Shen, “Dynamic Presentation of Immobilized Ligands Regulated through Biomolecular Recognition,” Journal of the American Chemical Society, 132:13630-13632 (2010).
Bo Liu, Yang Liu, Andrew K. Lewis, and Wei Shen, “Modularly Assembled Porous Cell-Laden Hydrogels,” Biomaterials, 31: 4918-4925 (2010).
Bo Liu, Andrew K. Lewis, and Wei Shen, “Physical hydrogels photo-cross-linked from self-assembled macromers for potential use in tissue engineering,” Biomacromolecules, 10: 3182-3187 (2009).
I. V. Larina, W Shen, O. G. Kelly, et al., “A membrane associated mCherry fluorescent reporter line for studying vascular remodeling and cardiac function during murine embryonic development,” The anatomical record, 292: 333-341(2009).
Wei Shen, Julia A. Kornfield, and David A. Tirrell, “Dynamic properties of artificial protein hydrogels assembled through aggregation of leucine zipper peptide domains,” Macromolecules, 40: 689-692 (2007).
Wei Shen, Julia A. Kornfield, and David A. Tirrell, “Structure and mechanical properties of genetically engineered protein hydrogels assembled through aggregation of leucine zipper peptide domains,” Soft Matter, 3: 99-107 (2007).
Wei Shen, Kechun Zhang , Julia A. Kornfield, and David A. Tirrell, “Tuning the erosion rate of artificial protein hydrogels through control of network topology,” Nature Materials, 5: 153-158 (2006).
Wei Shen, Rob G.H. Lammertink, Jill K. Sakata, Julia A. Kornfield, and David A. Tirrell, “Assembly of an Artificial Protein Hydrogel through Leucine Zipper Aggregation and Disulfide Bond Formation,” Macromolecules, 38 (9): 3909 -3916 (2005).
Chang-Sheng Liu, Yue Huang, Wei Shen, et al., “Kinetics of Hydroxyapatite Precipitation at pH 10 to 11,” Biomaterials 22(4): 301-306 (2001).
Chang-Sheng Liu, Wei Shen , et al., “Solution Property of Calcium Phosphate Cement Hardening Body,” Materials Chemistry and Physics, 58(1): 78-82 (1999).
Chang-Sheng Liu, Wei Shen, Yan-Fang Gu, et al., “Mechanism of the Hardening Process for a Hydroxyapatite Cement,” Journal of Biomedical Materials Research, 35(1): 75-80 (1997).  
Chang-Sheng Liu and Wei Shen, “Effect of Crystal Seeding on the Hydration of Calcium Phosphate Cement,” Journal of Materials Science-Materials in Medicine, 8(12): 803-807 (1997).  
Chang-Sheng Liu, Weng-Bo Wang, Wei Shen et al., “Evaluation of the Biocompatibility of a Nonceramic Hydroxyapatite,J. Endodontics, 23(8): 490-493 (1997).