Michael Mellas
Tirrell Group

Michael Mellas

  • Ph.D. Candidate

  • Contact: mjmellas@uchicago.edu
  • Office Location:
    5640 South Ellis Avenue, Eckhardt Research Laboratory 108, Chicago, IL 60637

Michael received his AB in chemistry and physics at Harvard University. He is currently pursuing his PhD in chemistry at the University of Chicago under Professor Matthew Tirrell at the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering while being advised by Professor Bozhi Tian. At Harvard, he worked with Professor Daniel Nocera on the artificial leaf, to develop small-molecule cobalt(II) complexes analogous to the water-splitting catalyst to better characterize and understand its catalytic function. Michael is currently investigating potential treatments for atherosclerosis using self-assembling polymer micelles in conjunction with Dr. Yun Fang at the University of Chicago Medical School.

Michael is working to develop a polyelectrolyte complex micelle system composed of cationic polypeptides and RNA, to deliver miRNA to inflamed vascular endothelial cells to induce RNA interference (RNAi) to inhibit plaque development. RNAi has been shown to efficaciously control gene expression, but developing this promising mode of therapy requires overcoming challenges such as evading the body’s defenses, targeting the cells to be treated, and entering those cells. The polyelectrolyte complexes provide both a shield for the miRNA and a scaffold on which to attach a targeting moiety. The bottom-up assembly of amphiphile micelles readily allows for modular multifunctional assemblies that can actively target cells and trigger a therapeutic effect simultaneously. By employing vascular cell adhesion molecule 1 (VCAM-1) as the targeting agent, Michael aims to achieve active targeting of inflamed endothelial cells, to inhibit development of plaques while avoiding off-target effects. He is currently exploring the modularity of the system, varying the targeting peptide or miRNA inside to change the target cell or effect, respectively. He is also working to increase the repertoire of nucleic acids to include longer nucleic acids such as mRNA or DNA, which will expand the potential mechanisms through which this system could induce therapeutic effects.

Hydrophobically assembled nanoparticles: Self-assembled nanoparticles

Wang, J., Mellas, M., Tirrell, M. and Chung, E.J., 2020. Hydrophobically assembled nanoparticles: Self-assembled nanoparticles. In Nanoparticles for Biomedical Applications (pp. 325-347). Elsevier.