• Afroditi Maria Zaki

Student thesis: Phd


Among the great breakthroughs in nanoscience and nanotechnology is the emergence of synthetic polymers that demonstrate biological activity and thus can be exploited for biomedical applications, extending from agents in therapeutics to drug delivery and tissue engineering. A key factor in the fabrication of such polymeric materials is the ability to tune and control their properties. To this end, an insight into the mode of interactions with biological systems is imperative. Computer simulations have proved to be a valuable tool that can compliment experiments and provide -otherwise inaccessible- information. In the context of this thesis, different aspects of the polymeric biological activity were investigated by studying two polymeric materials suitable for different types of applications, aiming to clarify yet undisclosed mechanisms that govern the polymers’ behaviour either in solution or in conjunction with model lipid membranes. The first part of the thesis is dedicated to a nonionic amphiphilic copolymer known as Pluronic L64 that is considered as a candidate for the design of novel hybrid polymer-lipid vesicles that will act as carriers for drugs or genes. The hybrid bilayers are subjected to mechanical stress and their properties are compared to those of pure lipid bilayers. The simulations showed that the hybrid membranes can sustain increased surface tension prior to rupture, are stiffer, thicker and the polymers can induce higher lipid tail packing and also reduce the lipid mobility, rendering the membranes more ordered and less fluid. At high values of lateral pressure, which leads to pore formation, the copolymer chains decelerate the pore growth. The examination of the defect formation mechanism reveals that the hydrophilic PEO segment plays the most vital role. The same systems were also observed in varying temperatures and the impact of the inserted polymers on the phase behaviour was investigated. The data suggested that the polymers change the nature of the phase transition from a discontinuous to a continuous one. The hybrid membranes transform between the ordered and the disordered phase in a continuous manner and not at a critical melting temperature. Interestingly, the effect of polymers is different at the low and high temperature regions, as proved by the analysis of the mechanical, structural and dynamic membrane properties. The second part is focused on the study of polyhexamethylene biguanide (PHMB), a biguanide-based polyelectrolyte, that possesses remarkable biocidal properties. Even though PHMB’s activity is known, the specific mode of action against bacterial membranes is still puzzling. Our work revealed that the polyelectrolyte assumes a counterintuitive behaviour in aqueous solution tending to self-organise into ordered compact structures, despite the repulsive electrostatic interactions of its positively charged segments. The formed nano-objects are thermodynamically stable, as was confirmed by free energy calculations and could be linked to PHMB’s antibacterial mechanism. These findings pave the way for further computational and experimental exploration of these fascinating and promising materials that could lead to the design of novel smart biologically active nanoparticles.
Date of Award1 Aug 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorAline Saiani (Supervisor) & Paola Carbone (Supervisor)


  • Molecular Dynamics
  • Phase Transition
  • Mechanical Properties
  • Lipid Membrane
  • Polyhexamethylene Biguanide
  • Polyelectrolyte
  • Amphiphilic Polymer
  • Pluronic

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