Recent progress in regenerative medicine has shown the potential for solving the organ transplant shortage facing the world. To date, simple engineered tissues such as the bladder and trachea have been successfully implanted into patients; nevertheless, the development of complex organs is lagging behind due to the challenge of constructing a complex vascular network within solid organs. The lab research uses a perfusion decellularization technique to create biological organ scaffolds consisting of the native vascular network and extracellular matrix proteins to develop bioartificial livers. The mainstay of the project is to create a “ready-in-time” artificial organ graft using nature’s own extracellular matrix. We are developing novel extracellular matrix environments to evaluate cell-matrix interactions to promote cell proliferation, differentiation and optimization of specialized functions.
The kidney bioengineering focus area proposes a strategy to both develop a functional tissue engineered kidney and to understand the biological processes involved in organ regeneration by focusing on the mechanisms of cell differentiation induced by cell-cell and cell-matrix interactions. Organ-scale extracellular matrix scaffolds are generated using perfusion decellularization strategies to create the organ framework that incorporates a venous and arterial vasculature, components of the nephron, and a urinary collecting system. Acellular scaffolds are repopulated by vascular endothelial and renal interstitial cells to create a functioning organ.
The ability to modulate the extracellular matrix to control cell function is the next frontier in tissue engineering. Our laboratory is modulating the ECM with novel polymers and synthetic peptides through our collaborations with the School of Engineering at Northwestern.
The development of large-scale organs and tissues require new culture systems comprised of continuous flow bioreactors with environmental control systems. Our laboratory has developed novel containers in which to grow recellularized organs. These vessels provide tissues with stimulation to ensure a niche environment for the organ development. Future work in this area will investigate the impact of environmental parameters on cell proliferation and function.