Design and Characterization of Plant-based Tissue Engineering Scaffolds

Project Title: Design and Characterization of Plant-based Tissue Engineering Scaffolds

Project Duration: May 21 – July 28 2018 (10 weeks), 40 hours per week.

Project Mentors:

  • Primary Faculty Mentor: Cheryl Gomillion, UGA School of Chemical, Materials, & Biomedical Engineering, www.gomillionlab.engr.uga.edu, ctgomillion@engr.uga.edu, 706-542-0918
  • Secondary Faculty Mentor: Li Tan, UGA Complex Carbohydrate Research Center (CCRC), tan@ccrc.uga.edu, 706-542-4499
  • Graduate Student/PostDoc mentors: Jenna Alsaleh, UGA School of Chemical, Materials, & Biomedical Engineering, jenals@uga.edu, 706-542-3623

Project Description: Biomaterials have long been used for a range of medical applications, including prosthetic replacements, drug delivery, and in more recent years, as scaffolds for tissue engineering applications. Tissue engineering research aims to develop biological substitutes for damaged or diseased tissues, most often using a combination of autologous cells obtained from healthy patient tissue and biomaterial scaffolds that support cell growth and subsequent tissue formation. These scaffolds, typically formed from degradable synthetic or natural polymers, serve as support structures for cells in vitro and in vivo, and provide a platform mimicking the properties and function of native tissue extracellular matrix (ECM) in the body. Identifying optimal biomaterial scaffolds for tissue engineering strategies has been an ongoing challenge for investigators because of the complex characteristics required for engineering various tissues. Scaffolds must be biocompatible, provide mechanical support, present a porous environment for nutrient flow, and be bioresorbable, yet maintain their structural integrity long enough for key cellular events to occur. In this work, we aim to evaluate the potential of plant-based materials for tissue engineering scaffolds. In particular, waste plant biomass, such as pectins derived from the peels of various plants and fruit, will be investigated for novel uses in biomedical applications.

REU Student Role and Responsibility: Our working hypothesis is that pectin-based materials present a natural biomaterial source highly-suited for supporting cellular processes, such as proliferation and stem cell differentiation. The student’s training experience will encompass the full scope of biomaterials evaluation, beginning with hands-on training in polymer processing methods, materials characterization, and scaffold fabrication. Following preparation of the scaffold materials, the student will perform an in vitro biocompatibility study to assess the materials’ cytotoxicity, which will provide additional training in aseptic technique, cell-biomaterial interactions, stem cell differentiation, and various assays to evaluate cell viability.

Required skills or courses for the REU student: Students should be familiar with general lab techniques, including pipetting, solution preparation, etc. that would be acquired in biology and/or chemistry courses. In addition, any experience with cell biology, materials science, and 3D printing will be beneficial.

Expected Outcome for REU student: The student’s project will serve as a preliminary assessment of the utility of pectin-based materials for tissue engineering applications, which will provide a foundation for a longer-term project focused on expanding the role of this material for tissue engineering and other biomedical applications. Findings obtained from the student’s project will likely contribute to the development of a manuscript intended for submission to a journal such as Biomaterials, Journal of Biomedical Materials Research: Part A, or other, in addition to a conference abstract submission for presentation at a professional society meeting such as the annual meeting of the Biomedical Engineering Society.