Tissue Engineering and Biomaterials
State of the Art Instruments, Tools and Techniques
UVA has recently invested in state-of-the-art instruments, tools, and techniques that have the potential to transform the field.
Through strategic faculty hiring and new equipment investments made by UVA, our faculty and students have access to state-of-the-art instruments, tools, and technologies necessary for innovation at the leading edges of cell and tissue engineering. They include the following:
- 3D-bioprinting enabled by three (soon to be seven) first-in-class bioprinters from three top companies (George Christ, Shayn Peirce-Cottler)
- Stem cell differentiation and lineage analysis enabled by single-cell mass cytometry (CYTOF) (Eli Zunder)
- Non-invasive functional imaging of damaged/regenerating tissues enabled by photoacoustic microscopy (Song Hu), hand-held multiphoton imaging (Silvia Blemker), spinning disk confocal microscopy with TIRF/FRAP modules (Tom Barker), FMT for whole animal imaging (Kimberly Kelly), and dual fluorescence-atomic force microscopy (Tom Barker).
- Personalization of cell and tissue engineering strategies via integration of data types bridging from mice-to-man enabled by multiscale computational modeling (Jeff Holmes, Silvia Blemker, Shayn Peirce-Cottler).
Bench to Bedside Research Pipeline
Through strategic hiring and collaborative partnerships with the School of Medicine clinical departments, BME has a unique pipeline to translate research into clinical advances.
Research in cell and tissue engineering spans all stages of medical practice, including: prevention, diagnosis, technology R&D, validation, surgery, and rehabilitation. Accordingly, we have established a complete pipeline from bench-to-bedside through close collaborations with clinicians in the School of Medicine. Sample projects include engineering of skeletal muscle for cleft palate repair and filling volumetric muscle defects (George Christ in collaboration with the Departments of Orthopedics and Plastic Surgery), engineering of pancreatic islet transplants (Shayn Peirce-Cottler in collaboration with the Department of Surgery), and engineering of the eye vasculature using stem cells (Shayn Peirce-Cottler and Eli Zunder in collaboration with the Department of Ophthalmology). The clinical bandwidth covered by our faculty and their collaborators in the School of Medicine is a competitive strength.
Close Collaboration with Systems Biology and Biomedical Data Science
Cell and tissue engineering research at UVA leverages robust, collaborative intersections with research (across labs and within labs) in the systems biology and biomedical data sciences in order to bring the powers of computational modeling and prediction to tissue engineering design and optimization in a way that is unique to this field.
The overt and synergistic relationship between the department’s cell and tissue engineering research focus and our systems biology and biomedical data sciences research focus is another distinguishing feature of our department. Indeed, a critical bottleneck in cell and tissue engineering that exists today is the paucity of quantitative tools that are available to inform and optimize the design of tissue-engineered constructs and cell and tissue engineering approaches. Aerospace engineers would not attempt to build new airplanes without the assistance of computational tools to simulate and optimize airfoil designs. Likewise, biomedical engineers cannot expect to be successful in designing functional tissues using cells and biomaterials without the aid of computational models to simulate key parameters and identify optimal solutions within existing constraints of biology and physiology.
Many of our cell and tissue engineering faculty (Jeff Holmes, Silvia Blemker, Shayn Peirce-Cottler, Tom Barker, George Christ, and Eli Zunder) also co-exist in the systems biology and biomedical data sciences research area or collaborate closely with those researchers. As a result, the interfacing of research areas in UVA’s biomedical engineering department is arguably stronger than in any other similar department in the country. The multimillion dollar NIH U01 grant recently awarded to co-PIs Slivia Blemker and Shayn Peirce-Cottler is evidence of the value of coupling computational modeling and tissue engineering/regeneration, in this case to investigate Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy. The planned NSF Engineering Resource Center grant submission (PI: Kevin Janes) will highlight the department’s combined strengths in microengineered tissues and computation and simulation of complex disease processes.
Cell and tissue engineering encompasses the broad array of research foci that relate to the design, fabrication, and implantation of manmade tissues, as well as the strategic manipulation of the body’s own regenerative programs, e.g. by pharmacologic interventions that coax the body to heal and regenerate itself following injury or disease. In the past five years, this definition of cell and tissue engineering has been expanded to include the design and fabrication of tissue mimics, termed microengineered tissues or organoids that exist for days-to-weeks outside the body and can be used as test beds for investigating fundamental biological mechanisms of disease and for screening drugs.
Tissue engineering and regenerative medicine are in their formative stages. Our goal is to conduct fundamental research that we can translate into clinical applications. The department is well-placed to pursue this ambitious program because of resources we have both within the department and across the university. They include expertise in systems biology, medical imaging, materials, vasculature, and immunology as well as our unique collection of cutting-edge tissue engineering equipment.
The current focus on cell and tissue engineering in the Department of Biomedical Engineering represents an evolution from research roots that extend back to the 1990s. The department’s engineering-based investigations into cell mechanobiology, vascular adaptations, inflammation, medical imaging of cardiovascular disease, and the etiology of wound healing—all of which are central aspects of cell and tissue engineering today—distinguished our department on a national level.
Through strategic faculty hiring over the past 15 years, we have continued to grow our research and teaching strengths in this area. Building on our department’s 50-year focus on cardiovascular engineering, which continues to thrive in the areas of cardiac muscle adaptations (Jeff Holmes) and blood vessel growth and remodeling (Shayn Peirce-Cottler, Rich Price), we have expanded our scope to encompass musculoskeletal tissue regeneration by recruiting established faculty members Silvia Blemker and George Christ.
The recruitment of senior faculty member Tom Barker, an expert in cell mechanobiology and tissue fibrosis, an unwanted consequence of regeneration, has further added to our research depth in this area. Additionally, we have also recruited junior faculty with key expertise in stem cell differentiation (Eli Zunder), optical imaging of vascular function and structure (Song Hu), and advanced biomaterials (Don Griffin, Chris Highley, Steven Caliari).
These new hires have led to the generation of exciting collaborative research initiatives, such as our new Fibrosis Initiative (PIs: Tom Barker and Jeff Holmes) and a new Center for Advanced Biomanufacturing (PIs: George Christ and Shayn Peirce-Cottler), which was recently funded by UVA’s Strategic Investment Funds. The latter will support UVA’s participation in the large-scale public-private consortium that the Department of Defense has recently selected to lead the nation’s Advanced Tissue Biofabrication Manufacturing USA Institute.
The growth in the number of program announcements and requests for applications in cell and tissue engineering from government institutions such as NIH, NSF, and DOD and others sets the stage for expanding our program. We will be deliberate in positioning ourselves to take advantage of these opportunities. A research program that is growing in size and recognition will also benefit our students by preparing them to contribute to these vital activities.