BioPACIFIC MIP Research: SET 3 - Functional Biomimics
What is your research focus?
In the Pitenis lab, we study interfacial properties and interactions in systems with soft materials and cells, using specialized equipment such as the tribometer, with which one can measure stiffness, friction, and adhesion forces in a system.
I am currently working in a multidisciplinary, collaborative project examining different synthetic hydrogels suitable for stembryo models (bio-mimicking materials to study embryo development from stem cells). The human embryo formation is a very complex process still poorly understood. Success rates for in vitro fertilization (IVF) are as low as 25-30%, with even lower numbers shown for minority groups, and often with unknown reason. By understanding the embryonic development, these procedures can be improved. Current research on in vitro stembryo models frequently focuses on thorough examination of cell behavior, but in a poorly controlled and uncharacterized environment, often including cell-derived matrices with unknown concentrations of bio-molecular cues, leading to uncontrolled cell differentiation. Our primarily goal is to find an extracellular environment where stem cell pluripotency can be well controlled and maintained, which is also user friendly and easy to reproduce. We aim to study simple but controlled cell microencapsulation systems, applying a high-throughput, structured experimental feedback approach where materials characterization and following cell outcome give cues for the next version of a stembryo model system.
What excites you about NSF BioPACIFIC MIP?
I am interested in broadening my network of other researchers in the biomaterials field that I can exchange ideas and potentially collaborate with. The BioPACIFIC MIP project suits me well since many research groups involved do research closely related to what I do in terms of gels, stimuli responsive materials, proteins, peptides and polymers.
The instruments in the MIP facility would be of great help in my project. I hope to be able to use for example the Optics11 for modulus measurements of gel regions. SAXS systems may work well for pore size determination in the gels, still to be examined. In general, I am interested in instruments helping me generate high-throughput methods for examining many different variations of my gels at the same time, since characterization techniques and measurements will be the same over and over again.