George Lu's laboratory focused on a class of gas-filled protein nanostructures, and explores their unique material, mechanical and acoustic properties to enable noninvasive imaging and remote control of genetically engineered cells for biomedical research and cell-based therapies.
Prior to joining Rice, George Lu’s Ph.D. research at UC San Diego focused on membrane protein structural biology before he transitioned to his postdoctoral research on protein engineering in the laboratory of Dr. Mikhail Shapiro at Caltech. There, he focused on a class of gas-filled hollow protein nanostructures called gas vesicles (GVs). GVs were evolved in certain photosynthetic microbes to regulate their buoyancy. They are usually several hundreds of nanometers in size and made exclusively of proteins, which form a 2-nm shell that allows gas to freely exchange but prevents the formation of liquid water inside. These biogenic nanoscale gas compartments are fully genetically encodable and possess unique mechanical and material properties. Exploring these properties, George Lu led the projects to develop GVs as “erasable” MRI contrast agents and genetically encodable optical coherence tomography (OCT) contrast agents. For these pioneering works, he was recognized as the Young Investigator of the Year by the World Molecular Imaging Society in 2018. George has co-authored more than 20 peer-reviewed publications, including a lead-authored article featured on the cover of Nature Materials.
George Lu was recruited to Rice Bioengineering through the university’s Synthetic Biology Initiative. His lab is supported by the $2 million first-time, tenure-track faculty grant from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) and the NIH Pathway to Independence (K99/R00) award.
The Laboratory for Synthetic Macromolecular Assemblies focuses on the engineering of a class of protein assemblies named gas vesicles (GVs). GVs were discovered in certain photosynthetic microbes such as cyanobacteria, which express and assemble them inside cells to float to the surface of the water for maximal photosynthesis. The hollow nanoscale gas compartments of GVs rendered many interesting mechanical and material properties, and amazingly, many of these properties are tunable by the genetic sequence that encodes them. In the past few years, the research in the Shapiro Lab, including projects led by me and my colleagues, explored these properties and demonstrated the utilities of GVs as reporter genes for ultrasound imaging, MRI and optical coherence tomography. In addition, GVs can enable the spatial manipulating and control of cells through ways such as acoustic tweezer and inertial cavitation. These technologies opened up a new frontier of noninvasive imaging and control of genetically engineered cells in centimeter-deep tissue, and have the potential impact especially in cell-based therapies, which currently lack efficient methods to monitor and modulate cells after their infusion.
The lab will employ multidisciplinary approaches in protein engineering, synthetic biology, chemical biology, and computational biology to understand the biophysics of these protein nanostructures and to engineer novel biomedical applications based on their unique properties. Current research includes several interrelated directions: Structure and the assembly mechanism of gas vesicles; design and evolution of novel gas-filled protein nanostructures; development of ultrasound imaging and focused ultrasound and translation of the technologies to cell-based therapies.