This award by the Biomaterials program in the Division of Materials Research to Texas Engineering Experiment Station is to carry out fundamental studies aimed at establishing advanced sciences capable of rapidly and inexpensively embedding 3-D vascular networks inside biomaterial scaffolds at organ-level size and scales. This proposed research will overcome existing knowledge gaps by: 1) applying a novel electrostatic discharge process to construct microvascular networks with controlled size and branching characteristics in biomedically relevant polymeric substrates; 2) developing new processing steps that further refine the size, spatial distribution, and surface characteristics of the branched microchannels so that they can deliver optimal transport for cell culture when embedded in porous scaffolds; 3) establishing the capacity of the networks for transport of oxygen, nutrients, and waste; and 4) performing cell culture experiments to determine the optimal range of parameters for tissue engineering. In addition to laying a foundation for a revolutionary step forward in tissue engineering, this project will train graduate and undergraduate students in areas at the frontiers of materials science, biomedical engineering, and chemical engineering. A broad educational impact will be achieved by leveraging a partnership with the National Center for Electron Beam Research at Texas A&M, where this research will be prominently incorporated as a permanent part of the materials showcase during regular tours given to students from across Texas at the elementary, junior-high, and high-school levels.
The development of technology to engineer artificial tissue and organ structures suitable for implantation and replacement of damaged or diseased counterparts in the body has the potential to save countless lives and catalyze a revolution the field of medicine. But a key reason this is not yet possible is the lack of an efficient process to construct 3-D vascular networks in biocompatible substrate materials at organ-level size and scale. The proposed research will address this need in a radically different way that can lay a foundation to establish new and powerful methods for mass-production of vascularized tissue scaffolds. The electrostatic discharge approach developed here (akin to capturing lightning inside a plastic block) will make it possible to rapidly construct these networks, while simultaneously providing unique and relatable educational experiences that introduce and stimulate student interest in areas at the frontiers of biomaterials and tissue engineering. A broad educational impact will be achieved by leveraging a partnership with the National Center for Electron Beam Research at Texas A&M, where research results from this project will be showcased during regular tours given to elementary, junior-high, and high-school students from across Texas.