Combining cells with scaffolding materials to generate functional tissue constructs describes tissue engineering at its most basic level. Understanding and manipulating the complex relationship between the cells and the scaffolding materials, however, represents the great challenge for tissue engineers. What cells should be used, for example, and should the combination of cells and materials occur in vitro or in vivo? What scaffolding material will best facilitate development? How will the tissue construct be functionally integrated?
In the area of biomaterial scaffold development, Institute researchers are working to use biodegradable materials – both natural and synthetic – with appropriate mechanical properties that can be modified to incorporate biological activity, such as growth factors and structural adhesive proteins. Institute researchers are studying novel ways to process materials into three-dimensional structures and to populate these structures with surface-bound biological signaling molecules.
Answering these questions requires the knowledge and expertise of many disciplines: most notably, cell biology and bioengineering. At the McGowan Institute, a strong, close collaboration between cell biologists and engineers with backgrounds in biomechanics and polymer chemistry drives the Tissue Engineering and Biomaterials Program.