Tirrell Group: John Barrett

Graduate Student (Alumni 2017)

Tirrell Group


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    Current position: Equity Researcher, Leerink Partners 

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Peptide vaccines have the advantage of providing only the necessary epitopes to induce an immunogenic response.  Alone, however, they can be very weak immunogens.  Our solution is to deliver the epitope as part of a peptide amphiphile (PA) micelle system.  This system creates a high local concentration of peptide, induces peptide secondary structure and allows for modularity of micelle parts by inserting multiple amphiphiles or adjuvants (non-specific immuno-stimulants).  Most of my research will focus on developing a vaccine against Streptococcus pyogenes, which is the causative agent of Group A Streptococcal (GAS) infections including Necrotizing Fascitis.  Our PA and adjuvant mixed PA micelles have been shown to induce a high antibody titer.  However, the method of immunogenicity has yet to be worked out.  Characterizing the immune response will finally develop the full story for this vaccine.  Additionally, I will be investigating alternate GAS vaccine candidates that will target and disrupt streptococcal quorum sensing (bacterial cell-cell communication) pathways in collaboration with the Federle Lab at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  We propose that these vaccines will help develop antibodies that interfere with pheromone production and detection.


John Barrett received his B.S. in Biomedical Engineering with a concentration in Nanotechnology from Boston University in Spring 2013.  He is working toward his Ph.D. in Biophysical Sciences at the University of Chicago under the dual mentorship of Prof. Matt Tirrell and Prof. Joel Collier.  As an undergraduate, John worked with Prof. Hatice Altug to develop a multiplexing plasmonic biosensor integrated with a microfluidic device to quickly and cheaply detect the adsorption of proteins and viruses in a label free manner.  His current research aims to study and characterize a potential peptide amphiphile micelle vaccine against Group A Streptococcus.  His research interests broadly include biomaterials, synthetic vaccines, immunoengineering and drug development.

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