This Career award by the Biomaterials program in the Materials Research Division to Texas Engineering Experimental Station, College Station is to advance rational scaffold design for organ regeneration and to develop the next generation of tissue engineers. These studies will be carried out with a particular focus on guiding adult mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) differentiation. Growth factors have long been recognized as potent drivers of MSC growth and differentiation. However, recent studies have demonstrated that scaffold stiffness can have a similar degree of influence on MSC differentiation. These findings have opened up the possibility that MSC differentiation can be dictated by tailoring scaffold material properties alone. A complex array of scaffold properties is currently recognized to impact MSC lineage progression. The goal of the proposed studies is to determine the relative influence of these various scaffold properties on MSC differentiation using a novel biomaterial platform based on collagen-mimetic proteins with programmable cell interaction sites. Understanding the dominant scaffold properties in terms of driving specific MSC differentiation will allow focus on optimizing this narrowed scaffold property set when designing scaffolds for organ regeneration. Successful completion of the proposed work is expected to significantly advance the rapid design of tissue scaffolds, leading to improved treatments for organ damage. The proposed education activities focus on increasing the interest and confidence of minorities and young women in STEM at critical periods during which STEM confidence often decreases. These activities include exposing middle school, high school, and undergraduate students to biomaterials and to associated cutting-edge scientific techniques and will advance the next generation of tissue engineers by promoting the increased representation of traditionally underrepresented groups in high-level STEM careers.
Tissue engineering holds great promise for the treatment of patients with damaged organs and generally involves combining cells with a biomaterial support. The present proposal encompasses a set of integrated research and education activities designed to dramatically advance biomaterial design for organ regeneration and to develop the next generation of tissue engineers. MSCs are a promising patient-derived cell source that can be induced to differentiate into a range of cell types. However, the ability to control MSC differentiation at a level required for organ regeneration has not yet been achieved. A complex array of biomaterial factors are known to impact MSC differentiation. The goal of the proposed studies is to identify the dominant biomaterial factors in terms of guiding specific MSC differentiation. Understanding the dominant biomaterial influences on MSC differentiation will allow focus on optimizing subset of factors, rather than a broad range of potential factors, when designing biomaterials for organ regeneration. The proposed education plan includes middle school, high school, and undergraduate outreach. The proposed outreach activities focus on increasing the interest and activities of minorities and young women in STEM related topics. The education plan was developed in close consultation with education experts and will advance the next generation of tissue engineers by promoting the increased representation of traditionally underrepresented groups in high-level STEM careers.