From fundamental supramolecular chemistry to self-assembled nanomaterials and medicines and back again – how Sam inspired SAMul
This feature article provides a personal insight into the research from my group over the past 10 years. In particular, the article explains how, inspired in 2005 by meeting my now-husband, Sam, who had cystic fibrosis, and who in 2011 went on to have a double lung transplant, I took an active decision to follow a more applied approach to some of our research, attempting to use fundamental supramolecular chemistry to address problems of medical interest. In particular, our strategy uses self-assembly to fabricate biologically-active nanosystems from simple low-molecular-weight building blocks. These systems can bind biological polyanions in highly competitive conditions, allowing us to approach applications in gene delivery and coagulation control. In the process, however, we have also developed new fundamental principles such as self-assembled multivalency (SAMul), temporary ‘on–off’ multivalency, and adaptive/shape-persistent multivalent binding. By targeting materials with applications in drug formulation and tissue engineering, we have discovered novel self-assembling low-molecular-weight hydrogelators based on the industrially-relevant dibenzylidenesorbitol framework and developed innovative approaches to spatially-resolved gels and functional multicomponent hybrid hydrogels. In this way, taking an application-led approach to research has also delivered significant academic value and conceptual advances. Furthermore, beginning to translate fundamental supramolecular chemistry into real-world applications, starts to demonstrate the power of this approach, and its potential to transform the world around us for the better.