Dense collagen gels as physiologically relevant bioinks
This is the first demonstration of an unprecedented, robust and simple method of gel aspiration-ejection (GAE) to generate 3D, cellular, injectable and printable dense collagen gels with anisotropically aligned collagen nanofibrils. Notably, the aspiration step expels the excess fluid used in the hydrogel casting process, and the collagen meso-structure is remodelled into tissue-equivalent matrices with extracellular matrix-like features. Bioactive materials and cells can be easily incorporated at the point of fibril self-assembly. A number of instruments have been adapted to undertake GAE, including, hand-held syringes, angioplasty inflation devices, and syringe pumps. Recent breakthroughs have led to a first prototype instrument based on automated-GAE, which enabled the high-throughput biofabrication of cellular dense collagen gel bioinks.
Native dense collagen gels as 3D tissue models and scaffolds for tissue engineering
This is based on the ground-breaking original research into the Plastic Compression technique that identified and characterized a simple yet revolutionary process with generic applications in tissue engineering (original publication Brown et al., Advanced Functional Materials 15;2005:1762). The technology produces dense collagen constructs with high cell-viability and tissue-like mechanical characteristics. The technology has been commercialized into a 3D in vitro tissue model (RAFTTM, Lonza Bioscience Solutions) for use in toxicology, oncology and stem cell research and screening. Its speed, simplicity and control make it ideal for large-scale or individualized bedside applications.
Bioinorganic releasing soluble and bioactive glasses
Our research program has significantly contributed to the advancement of knowledge on bioactive and soluble glasses through its research on silicate-, phosphate- and borate-based glasses. We were the first to report on highly bioactive sol-gel derived borate-based glasses. These demonstrate at least two orders of magnitude larger specific surface areas and total pore volumes compared to melt-quench equivalents, which translate to higher aqueous interaction, ion release, and mineralization rates. Depending on composition, osteogenic, angiogenic, or antimicrobial ions could be released through glass degradation. It is predicted that these glasses will have applications beyond the regeneration of mineralized tissues (e.g., bone repair and dentin hypersensitivity) and in particular in wound healing.
Decoding the role of bioactive materials in collagen biomineralization and skeletal tissue engineering
Both the gel aspiration-ejection and plastic compression techniques are ideal for generating hybrid hydrogels through the functionalization of the extracellular matrix-like dense collagen gels with other bioorganic molecules, e.g., citrate, silk sericin or bioinorganics e.g., bioactive glass particles. Through hybridization, the in-situ effect of these bioactive materials on the acellular intra- and inter-mineralization of collagen as well as on seeded cellular responses can be determined as a function of time in culture.
Probing the role of dynamic physiological loading on tissue constructs
Dense collagen constructs have tissue-like protein content and mechanical properties and provide a unique niche to investigate the effect of dynamic biomechanical stimulation in vitro on seeded cells. Physiologically relevant tensile, compressive or shear stresses and in combination with circumferential strain are translated to seeded cells, exhibiting native cellular orientation and expression of contractile phenotype and enhancing the construct mechanical properties via matrix remodelling.