Research

We develop materials-based, engineering strategies to control the self-organization and assembly of various cell types into tissues. Our goal is to understand the emergence of higher-order function in biological systems, especially in ophthalmic, neuromuscular and cardiovascular systems.

Engineering the Biotic-Abiotic Interface

To do this we develop novel strategies to encode information in the 3-D environment of the cells. We engineer the biotic-abiotic interaction of cells and tissues with materials and determine how cells sense, respond and modulate their environment. Specifically, we are developing strategies to independently control the surface chemistry, surface roughness, topography, mechanical properties and biomolecular composition at the nanoscale.  Living biological systems are hierarchically organized from the molecular to the tissue level and we are working to engineer biomimetic systems to elucidate how these biochemical, electrical and biomechanical signals are integrated and propagated across spatiotemporal scales.

Bottom-Up Engineering of the Extracellular Matrix

The extracellular matrix (ECM) is a nanofiber network of proteins and other molecules that mechanically integrates cells into tissues and acts as an insoluble signalling network.  Recent work has demonstrated that decellularized ECM from different organs can serve as a scaffold to regrow tissues from dissociated cells.  This impressive result has spurred a large body of research in this area.  However, this is a top-down approach, requiring an existing organ to be decellularized first.  We asked, why not build the ECM from the bottom-up just like cells do during embryogenesis or wound healing.

We are developing biomimetic fabrication strategies that take the ECM proteins fibronectin, laminin, collagen type I and collagen type IV and build 3-D nanofiber scaffolds with them.

Combining Basic Science and Applied Research

We are concurrently investigating the basic properties of engineered ECM as well as applying our engineered ECM to build new tissues.  On the basic science side, we are working to understand the biomechanics and mechanobiology of engineered fibronectin, laminin and collagen nanofibers.  We hope to establish that our engineered ECM nanofibers are structurally and functionally similar to native ECM fibrils, and then use this platform to learn more about the basic biology of the ECM.  On the applied side, we are developing new ways to use engineered ECM, such as nanofibers, to build tissue engineering scaffolds in 2-D and 3-D.  As proof-of-concept, we are tackling specific applications where these materials provide distinct advantages over existing technologies.

Current Projects in the Lab

  • Biomechanics and mechanobiology of fibronectin, laminin and collagen nanofibers
  • Development of new methods for fabricating ECM scaffolds
  • Engineered basement membranes for regeneration of the corneal endothelium
  • Cardiac tissue engineering using 3-dimensional nano/micro structured ECM scaffolds