Robert "Smitty" Oakes

Assistant Professor

Robert “Smitty” Oakes

Assistant Professor

Ammon Pinizzotto Biopharmaceutical Innovation Center
590 Avenue 1743, Ste 423
Newark, DE 19713


Career Development Awardee, 2020-2024, Department of Veterans Affairs
NIH Postdoctoral Fellow, 2018-2024, University of Maryland
Postdoctoral Fellow, 2015-2018, University of Michigan
Ph.D. in Bioengineering, 2016, The University of Utah


  • Cell & Tissue Engineering

  • Drug Delivery & Nanomedicine


  • Immunoengineering
  • Autoimmunity
  • Cancer Metastasis
  • Drug Delivery
  • Nanotechnology
  • Biomaterials


The Oakes Research Laboratory studies and engineers the innate immune system to improve immunotherapy and biomedical implant effectiveness.

The innate immune system provides a rapid, initial response to immunological challenges, such as infection, vaccination, and biomedical device implantation. Vaccines are one of the most important innovations in human history, allowing us to eradicate some infectious diseases by utilizing innate cells to initiate highly specific adaptive immune responses. Likewise, biomaterial-based devices such as artificial hips and coronary stents, are implanted every hour of the day to provide lifesaving and quality-of-life improvements – innate immune cells cleanup the damaged tissue from surgical insertion. A challenge for both vaccines and implants is their limited control over these innate immune responses. Recent advances in nanotechnology and material science provide a path to achieve such precision. Our team charts a unique path focused on innate immunity by combining novel engineering platforms, advanced transcriptomics techniques, and targeting of intracellular gene expression networks. We apply this central focus on innate immunity to i) create therapeutics that counter autoimmunity, ii) engineer approaches to fight cancer, and iii) decode tissue-specific innate immune cells surrounding implants.

Dr. Robert “Smitty” Oakes, PhD joins the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Delaware in Fall 2024. Dr. Oakes currently holds an appointment as a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Maryland in the laboratory of Christopher M. Jewell where he is focused on therapeutics for autoimmunity. Jointly, he holds an appointment with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) as a Career Development Awardee (CDA-2). Dr. Oakes completed the first stage of his postdoctoral training in the Laboratories of Lonnie Shea and Jacqueline Jeruss at the University of Michigan where he focused on implantable diagnostics for monitoring cancer progression. He completed his doctoral work on neuroimmune responses to brain-machine interfaces in the Laboratory of Patrick Tresco at The University of Utah. He received a B.S. in Physics and a B.A. in Theology from Lenoir-Rhyne University. In 2023, he was awarded the BioInterfaces Rising Star Award from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund and the Society for Biomaterials for his research contributions in immunoengineering. Collectively, he has authored 23 publications in leading journals (e.g., ACS Nano, Nature Communications, Cancer Research), received funding support from an NIH T32 Postdoctoral Fellowship in cancer biology, and is actively supported by a VA CDA-2 on immunotherapy design.


For a complete list of publications, check Dr. Oakes’ Google Scholar.

Shah SA, Oakes RS, Jewell CM. Advancing immunotherapy using biomaterials to control tissue, cellular, and molecular level immune signaling in skin. Advanced Drug Delivery Reviews. 2024; 209:115315. doi: 10.1016/j.addr.2024.115315

Jewell CM, Miljković MD, Oakes RS. Transforming bioengineering with unbiased teams and tools. Nature Reviews Bioengineering. 2023; 1:538–540. doi: 10.1038/s44222-023-00058-0

Oakes RS, Tostanoski LH, Kapnick SM, Froimchuk E, Black SK, Zeng X, Jewell CM. Exploiting Rational Assembly to Map Distinct Roles of Regulatory Cues during Autoimmune Therapy. ACS Nano. 2021; 15(3):4305–4320.
doi: 10.1021/acsnano.0c07440

Oakes RS, Bushnell GG, Orbach S, Kandagatla P, Zhang Y, Morris AH, Hall MS, LaFaire P, Decker JT, Hartfield RM, Brooks MD, Wicha MS, Jeruss JS, and Shea LD. Metastatic conditioning of myeloid cells at subcutaneous synthetic niche reflects disease progression and predicts therapeutic outcomes. Cancer Research. 2020; 80(3):602-12. doi: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-19-1932

Oakes RS, Froimchuk E, Jewell CM. Engineering Biomaterials to Direct Innate Immunity. Advanced Therapeutics. 2019; 2:1800157. doi: 10.1002/adtp.201800157

Oakes RS, Polei MD, Skousen JL, Tresco PA. An astrocyte derived extracellular matrix coating reduces astrogliosis surrounding chronically implanted microelectrode arrays in rat cortex. Biomaterials. 2018; 154:1-11.
doi: 10.1016/j.biomaterials.2017.10.001