Where Ideas grow
Bioengineered 3D Microenvironments

ABOUT

Our group focuses on the development of bioengineered microenvironments to promote controlled 3D cell assembly. We intend to recapitulate tissue-specific morphogenesis and differentiation, and understand the impact of microenvironmental signals on these processes. Ultimately, we aim to translate this knowledge into the design of advanced cell-delivery systems for regenerative therapies and 3D in vitro models.

 

RESEARCH

Engineering 3D cell morphogenesis

We have been developing cell-instructive hydrogels, ranging from complex multifunctional hydrogels, to “minimal matrices” containing only the essential biochemical/biomechanical signals for cells to exhibit their unique self-organizing properties and recapitulate tissue-specific morphogenesis and differentiation. By gaining insights into the mechanisms by which cells sense their microenvironment to organize into specific structures, and how this process can be guided by matrix features, we intend to advance the design of ECM-like 3D matrices for different therapeutic applications, from regenerative medicine to cancer.

 

Microarraying the cell microenvironment

In 3D microenvironments, cells respond to an array of soluble and matrix-associated cues and it is essential to systematically deconstruct their individual contribution and interplay. Yet, such combinatorial studies are very demanding. To address this challenge we are establishing high-throughput screening (HTS) platforms of 3D microarrays, where the combination of different cell-material scenarios into miniaturized specimens will allow assaying numerous variables in a time/cost-effective manner. In particular, it will greatly facilitate the testing of novel hydrogel formulations and optimization of 3D microenvironments.

 

Current research areas include:

  • The development of pro-angiogenic scaffold-based and scaffold-free microtissues for cell-based regenerative therapy
  • The development of 3D models to analyze the role of the ECM in cancer-related EMT (epithelial-to mesenchymal transitions)

 

A) Confocal image of human outgrowth endothelial cells (OEC, red) and human mesenchymal stem cells ((MSC) co-entrapped in molecularly-designed alginate microgels. In primed microgels, cells produce abundant amounts of endogenous extracellular matrix (white) and OEC assemble into tubular-like structu