Affiliated Faculty

Phillip B. Messersmith

Phillip B. Messersmith

Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Materials Science and Engineering and (by courtesy) Chemical and Biological Engineering

Erastus Otis Haven Professor

2170 Campus Drive

Silverman Hall 4625

Evanston, IL 60208-2850

philm( at )


Post-doc Materials Science and Engineering, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY

Ph.D. Materials Science and Engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana, Champaign, IL

M.S. Bioengineering, Clemson University, Clemson, SC

B.S. Life Science, University of Illinois at Urbana, Champaign, IL

Research Interests

My group seeks to develop unique biomaterials for the repair, replacement, or augmentation of human tissue. Current research is focused in three main areas:

Biomimetic/Bioinspired Materials

The use of biological strategies to synthesize and/or process materials (biomimetics) is a rapidly emerging area of material science and biomaterials research. A large research effort is underway to develop novel adhesive biomaterials. Specifically, we are developing synthetic polymers that mimic the composition and properties of adhesive proteins found in nature. In one project single molecule biophysical studies are being performed to understand the role of specific amino acids on biological adhesion. Of particular interest are adhesive amino acid residues that are found in protein 'glues' secreted by marine mussels.

The information gained from fundamental molecular adhesion studies is incorporated into biocompatible polymers for potential use as adhesive biomaterials. In another project, features of mussel and gecko adhesion are combined in a unique way to make a temporary adhesive useful in both wet and dry environments. Other projects involve the design of rapid in-situ formation of peptide, protein, and polymeric hydrogels. Such materials may be useful for tissue repair and for injectable regenerative medicine strategies.

Biointerfaces and Antifouling Polymers

Understanding the behavior of proteins, cells and bacteria at interfaces is key to effective design of materials that interact with biosystems. Quantitative protein adsorption experiments along with theoretical and simulation work performed in conjunction with our collaborators are guiding the design of new biomimetic antifouling polymers.

New ways of anchoring the antifouling polymers onto surfaces are inspired by mussel adhesive proteins, and new degradation resistant and biocompatible polymer chemistries are being developed. These polymers are intended to be used for limiting biofouling of surfaces, such as cell, protein and bacterial adsorption onto medical implants and devices, but may also be useful in industrial, consumer and marine uses where minimization of surface biofouling is desired.


We are exploring the development of nanostructured therapeutic biomaterials. Potential medical applications range from structural composites for bone/tooth repair to drug delivery, cancer treatment, and biomedical imaging.

Projects include the development and medical applications of sterically stabilized and functionalized inorganic nanoparticles, surface modification, and the use of self-assembling molecules to form nanostructured 3-D assemblies.

Visit the Messersmith Group website.

Significant Recognition

  • Editorial boards: Nanomedicine, Soft Matter, Biointerphases, Biomedical Materials
  • MERIT Award, NIH
  • Langmuir Lecture Award Recipient, American Chemical Society
  • Fellow, American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering; Royal Society of Chemistry; Biomaterials Science and Engineering

Significant Professional Service

  • Editorial boards: Nanomedicine, Soft Matter, Biointerphases, Biomedical Materials
  • Permanent member, Biomaterials and Biointerfaces Study Section, NIH, 2003
  • Study Section Boundary Team, Bioengineering Science and Technology IRG, NIH, 2001
  • Scientific Advisory Board, Implant Dentistry Research and Education Foundation, 2001
  • American Chemical Society
  • American Association for the Advancement of Science
  • Materials Research Society
  • Program Chair, 2010 Annual Meeting of the Society for Biomaterials
  • International Association for Dental Research
  • Chair of the Gordon Research Conference on Biointerface Science, 2010

Selected Publications

    1. H. Lee, N. Scherer, P.B. Messersmith, “Single Molecule Mechanics of Mussel Adhesion”, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 103, 12999-13003(2006).
    2. H. Lee, B.P. Lee, P.B. Messersmith, “A reversible wet/dry nanoadhesive inspired by mussel and gecko adhesion”, Nature, 448, 338-341(2007).
    3. H. Lee, S. Dellatore, W.M. Miller, and P.B. Messersmith, “Mussel-inspired surface chemistry for multifunctional coatings”, Science 318, 426-30(2007).
    4. B.-H. Hu, J. Su and P.B. Messersmith, “Polymer Hydrogels Cross-Linked by Native Chemical Ligation”, Biomacromolecules, 10, 2194-2200(2009).
    5. G. Bilic, C. Brubaker, P.B. Messersmith, A. S. Mallik, T. Quinn, E. Done, L. Gucciardo, S. M. Zeisberger, R. Zimmermann, J. Deprest, and A. H. Zisch, “Injectible candidate sealants for fetal membrane repair: Bonding and toxicity in vitro”, American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 202, 85.e1-9(2010).
    6. J. Su,  B.-H. Hu,  W.R. Sands, W. L. Lowe, Jr., D.B. Kaufman, and P.B. Messersmith, “Anti-Inflammatory Peptide-Functionalized Hydrogels for Pancreatic Islet Encapsulation”, Biomaterials, 31, 308-314(2010).
    7. C.E. Brubaker, H. Kissler, L. Wang, D.B. Kaufman, and P.B. Messersmith, “In-vivo performance of a mussel-inspired adhesive polymer in extrahepatic islet transplantation”, Biomaterials, 31, 420-427(2010).
    8. K. Chawla, H. Ham, T Nguyen, P.B. Messersmith, “Molecular Resurfacing of Cartilage with Proteoglycan 4 (PRG4)”, Acta Biomaterialia 6, 3388–3394(2010).
    9. H.O. Ham, Z. Liu, K. H. A. Lau, H. Lee, P.B. Messersmith, “Facile DNA Immobilization on Surfaces via Catecholamine Polymer”, Angewandte Chemie International Edition 2011, 50, 732 –735.
    10. N. Holten-Andersen, M. J. Harrington, H. Birkedal, B. P. Lee, P.B. Messersmith, K. Y. C. Lee, and J. H. Waite, “pH-induced metal-ligand crosslinks yield self-healing polymer networks with near-covalent elastic moduli”, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 2011, 108 (7) 2651-2655.
    11. J. Su, F. Chen, V. Cryns and P.B. Messersmith, “Catechol Polymers for pH-Responsive, Targeted Drug Delivery to Cancer Cells”, Journal of the American Chemical Society 133, 11850–11853 (2011).
    12. D.E. Fullenkamp, J.G. Rivera, Y.-K. Gong, K.H.A. Lau, L. He, R. Varshney, and P.B. Messersmith, “Mussel-Inspired Silver-Releasing Antibacterial Hydrogels”, Biomaterials 2012, 33, 3783-3791.
    13. D.G. Barrett, D.E. Fullenkamp, L. He, N. Holten-Andersen, K.Y.C. Lee, and P.B. Messersmith, “pH-Based Regulation of Hydrogel Mechanical Properties Through Mussel-Inspired Chemistry and Processing”, Advanced Functional Materials, 2013, 23(9), 1111-19.
    14. T.S. Sileika, R. Zhang, D.G. Barrett and P.B. Messersmith, “Colorless multifunctional coatings inspired by polyphenols found in tea, chocolate and wine”, Angewandte Chemie International Edition, 2013, 52, 10766–10770.
    15. H.O. Ham, S.H. Park, J.W. Kurutz, I.G. Szleifer, P.B. Messersmith, “Antifouling Glycocalyx-Mimetic Peptoids”, Journal of the American Chemical Society, 2013, 135, 13015–13022.

Department of Materials Science and Engineering

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