Despite impressive progress in polymer chemistry and synthetic biology, emulating the adaptive properties of living matter remains a challenge for biomaterial scientists. We exploit synthetic phototriggers and photoresponsive biological processes to design materials with latent functional levels that can be unlocked upon light exposure. Property changes can be initiated, reinforced, or terminated on demand with precise spatiotemporal control. Our dynamic materials are used to guide specific cell processes in vitro and in vivo. They capture the dynamics of multifaceted interactions between cells and natural scaffolds in relevant medical scenarios like cellular migration, angiogenesis, and immunoregulation. We translate the findings from this research into predictive tissue models for personalized therapeutics and instructive scaffolds for regenerative medicine.
The regulation of biomaterial properties using light is at the core of our research. Light-triggers are key components incorporated into our molecular designs to photocontrol the bioactivity of drugs, peptidomimetics, synthetic polymers, and proteins. We also engineer bacteria to synthesize specific proteins upon light exposure and actively remodel artificial microenvironments, pioneering a unique integration of optogenetic concepts in materials bioengineering. We apply photoinitiated (bio)chemical reactions to confer biologically relevant compositional and structural changes to our biomaterials in space and time. Our 4D biomaterials, upstream of adaptive materials, are used for fundamental studies of cell-materials interactions and as advanced scaffolds for diagnostics and regenerative therapies.
Progress in personalized therapies very much depends on the availability of in vitro disease models to capture tissue-specific properties and their variations among individuals and disease stages. Such differences are hardly represented in conventional cell culture models, typically simplified to a single cell type on an inert 2D plastic plate. We integrate the synthesis of dynamic biomaterials with micro/nanofabrication technologies (i.e. 3D- bioprinting) to reconstruct multicomponent cellular microenvironments with tunable compositions, mechanical properties and morphologies. These are artificial tissues reflecting the complexity, specificity, and variability of natural ones. Advanced cellular microenvironments contribute to reducing failure rates in drug discovery, increasing efficiency of cancer therapies, improving engraftment ratios in cell therapies, and lowering costs in growth factor-based tissue regeneration. We also incorporate functional components (waveguides, electrodes…) into our devices for cell-specific stimulation and monitoring.
Biomaterials development faces a paradigm shift. Decades of research focusing on inert biomaterials are now being outpaced by research on instructive and immunomodulatory designs. There is a growing appreciation of the need to integrate new insights emerging from studies of cell–matrix interactions and synthetic biology approaches into the design of medical materials. Chemists, bioengineers and cell biologists in our group cooperate with engineers at the INM-Innovation Center, clinical partners at Saarland Medical Center, drug developers at Saarland University, and medical companies to translate next-generation biomaterials into innovative medical products for regeneration and diagnostics. Conceptually novel devices and therapies are envisaged from this process, addressing increasing needs in an ageing population. We host interdisciplinary expertise and infrastructure and a collaborative spirit to advance in these fields.