Core Research

Advanced Biomaterials Development

The research on biomaterials has focused on consideration of all complexities associated with fully developed tissues. To that end, our biomaterial systems take into account the need for vascularization, innervation, complex structural features, controllable and complete degradation:

  • Degradable Fibrous Protein-based Scaffolds - Controlled degradation from days to years through modification of silk protein secondary structure (beta sheets) that are biocompatible in vivo. With silk as the focus, we also study elastins and collagens in the program. Pure, hybrid, crosslinked and related
  • Multiple Material Formats to Mimic Native Tissue - Sponges, hydrogels, films, electro-spun mats, gel-spun small-diameter tubes, particle-reinforced scaffolds, microparticles and nanoparticles.
  • Tailorable Material Features Including Microstructures and Mesostructures - Microfluidic channels, bulk porosity and pore size, hydrogel density, alignment of fibers or nanofeatures in electrospun mats and cast films, porosity of tube structures, optical quality and many related features are addressed via protein biomaterials sources, processing and related engineering methods including casting, poragen leaching, 3D printing, gel spinning, machining, and related techniques.
  • Engineered Protein Biomaterials - Genetic engineering of core protein domains has led to a suite of recombinant proteins with various properties and functionalities including cell binding domains, antimicrobial domains, crosslinking capability, structural elasticity, mineral binding domains and other functions.

Advanced Bioreactors Development

The research on bioreactors has led to tailorable systems to integrate environmental factors including perfusion, mechanical stimulation, electrical stimulation as well as issues of scale and morphology. In almost all cases, in situ imaging capacity is built in to monitor ongoing cultures, reducing the number of replicates for sacrificial time points:

  • Multiplex Perfusion Reactors – The bioreactor work lead to the development of perfusion bioreactors with capacity for multiple modules
  • Mechanical Stimulation Bioreactors – These systems allow for the examination of dynamic compression, shear and stretch
  • Electrical Stimulation Bioreactors – These systems allow for the examination and application of electrical fields at cellular and tissue levels using various formats including cartridges with electrodes, and interdigitated electrode systems. Integrated electrical and perfusion capabilities are also utilized.
  • Microfluidic platforms – Microfluidic and microarray bioreactors allow for the examination of microtissues based on smaller cell numbers and address the need for high-throughput screening
  • Imaging-compatible bioreactor systems – A variety of systems are designed that can interface with microCT, light and fluorescent microscopies, PET, ultrasound and other modalities.
  • Anatomical Bioreactors – Bioreactors for engineering anatomically shaped constructs are studied.

Complex Tissue Engineering

Our work with biomaterials, bioreactors and human cells has been largely driven by a need to generate more complex tissue structures to better mimic the native tissues of interest:

  • Tissue Interfaces – Development of osteochondral grafts for investigation of tissue interfaces
  • Vascularized Tissues – Engineering of vascularized tissues to optimize transport, assess cell signaling and improve integration
  • Innervated Tissues – Engineering tissues with innervation is pursued in the context of many systems
  • Functional Tissues – The development of appropriately responsive and functional tissue constructs of bone, cartilage, adipose, intestine, brain and myocardium, among others

Disease Models

While much of the tissue engineering field is focused on the development of functional grafts to replace damaged tissue, a significant opportunity is the utilization of complex, 3D tissue constructs to investigate the pathogenesis of diseased tissue and to examine potential therapeutic remedies.

  • Brain Damage – Brain-like tissues were developed to then assess the impact of mechanical damage (Traumatic Brain Injury) to assess new options for repair.
  • Obesity and Diabetes – Adipose tissues were engineered in order to study the role of metabolic loads, inflammation, hormes, and related factors on tissue responses as mimics to obesity and diabestes.
  • Engineered Polycystic Kidney – Utilizing the biomaterials and bioreactor systems at the Center, structurally relevant kidney constructs were generated from normal and diseased cells
  • Osteoarthritis – Development of osteoarthritis model to examine early stage disease pathogenesis
  • Pre-Term Birth – Cervical tissues were developed to study the role of collagen on mechanics related to preterm birth, as well as the impact of hormone treatments to ameliorate the impact of changes in collagen.