Research interests

Research Group: Biomaterials for Multistage Drug & Cell Delivery

Biofunctional hydrogels for Tissue Engineering

Biomaterials constitute the implantable devices used to repair, replace, or support deficient or injured tissues, organs, or functions of the body. Tissue Engineering, instead, is a modern approach with the purpose of regenerating those body parts through the delivery of biomaterials, cells and molecular signals to the appropriate sites. Regenerative Medicine is a wider field, including also other strategies, such as cell delivery alone.

The ideal biomaterial for most applications would be capable of mimicking all characteristics of the natural extracellular matrix (ECM). Hydrogels are materials well suited for that purpose since they share the highly hydrated state of the ECM and can be further functionalized to better mimic its function. Hydrogels can additionally be injectable, thus providing minimally invasive surgical procedures. Hydrogels of natural origin are under investigation by our team for developing biomaterials able to mimic several key features of the ECM, such as ability to promote cell adhesion, migration, differentiation, cell-driven degradation and vascularization.

The group has been specializing in directing and mechanistically following cell behavior in engineered 3D microenvironments towards the development of cell-instructive injectable biomaterials for tissue regeneration, especially bone and skin.

The group is focused on developing hydrogels providing an adequate environment for the entrapment and delivery of mesenchymal stem cells and/or other cell types influencing their differentiation into bone cells and/or promoting angiogenesis, such as endothelial cells and fibroblasts. Alginate-based hydrogels are being functionalized with cell-interactive peptides in order to reproduce some essential features of the extracellular matrix, namely cell adhesion, proteolytic degradation and guided cell differentiation. These hydrogels are also being investigated as models to study stem cells behavior and to probe cell-cell and cell-matrix interactions in 3D conditions in regenerative therapies and degenerative conditions (cancer).

The group’s main research interest is the biofunctionalization of hydrogels to prepare tissue engineered injectable biomaterials, capable of inducing tissue regeneration and to act as carriers of cells or cell-targeted molecules. Through binding of specific cell-interactive compounds, such as oligopeptides, hydrogels are designed to reproduce essential features of the extracellular matrix. We are currently exploring these cellularized hydrogels as bioinks for bioprinting.

An additional focus relies on Nanomedicine-based strategies, namely on the functionalization of nanoparticles capable of specifically targeting cells for gene delivery and cancer diagnosis and treatment.

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