About Student Research

Brandon A. Wilbanks (2019-present)

In vitro selection of novel DNAs that home to subcellular compartments

Brandon Wilbanks, an honors graduate of The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, in chemical and biomolecular engineering, entered Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science after working in the Maher lab for two years as a post-baccalaureate researcher. During this time, Brandon co-authored multiple papers and won a National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Fellowship in support of his Ph.D. training.

Brandon's thesis project addresses a general unmet need in medicine and chemical biology — how to move macromolecular machines and cargo across impermeable cell membranes to specific subcellular destinations. Viruses have learned some of these tricks, but solving the cell delivery problem without viruses is challenging. Brandon is applying the power of in vitro selection with vast libraries of trillions of folded random nucleic acid sequences to address this problem. By devising strategies to reward rare nucleic acid molecules that can sneak into the desired compartments of interest within living cells in culture or in tissues, Brandon hopes to develop tools that will improve delivery of drugs and genetic engineering agents, such as CRISPR-Cas9 derivatives, to the places where they are needed.