Vascular Tissue and Cellular Engineering Research
Tissue engineering has promise for treatment of a broad variety of diseases by providing alternatives to donor tissues and organs. An adequate blood supply to and within the newly grown tissue is an essential factor for the tissue survival and functioning. While considerable success has been achieved in growing artificial arteries, generating a functional microvasculature remains one of the major challenges in tissue engineering. The difficulties arise mainly from the complexity of the local cell-cell and cell-matrix signaling involved in the process of capillary formation (angiogenesis), which is not completely understood. In addition, the Extracellular microenvironment varies with the site and disease, making it extremely difficult to study angiogenesis using in vitro models. Therefore, there is need for new approaches to dissect the mechanisms involved in capillary growth and to restore or generate microvasculature in a particular clinical application.
The underlying concept of our research is that the process of capillary formation can be controlled through the manipulation of the Extracellular environment. This approach is based on using an appropriate scaffold to provide capillary (endothelial) and support cells (such as fibroblasts) with necessary mechanical and chemical signals. We have recently developed a new model to study angiogenesis in vitro and in vivo, which uses a novel biomaterial – a self-assembling peptide scaffold – to support spontaneous angiogenesis in vitro and capillary growth in vivo. The important advantages of this material over other scaffolds are 1) the ability to control scaffold physical properties, 2) fast self-assembly under physiological conditions both in vitro and in vivo, 3) support of growth of many cell types, 4) possibility of in vivo delivery via injection with no detectable immune response and 5) possibility of controlled delivery of angiogenic factors in vivo. Therefore, this system enables one to customize the scaffold for a particular application.