Overview

The field of regenerative medicine has witnessed impressive advances over the past 25-30 years, moving us ever closer to the goal of translating engineered tissue constructs into human patients. However, despite an exponentially-expanding literature documenting advances in biomaterials and stem cell biology, the two biggest factors limiting the clinical applicability of engineered tissues 20 years ago continue to be the biggest hurdles today: tissue function and vascularization.

 

To address these challenges, we are focused on the instructive signals provided to cells from their surroundings via a complex 3D network of proteins and polysaccharides known collectively as the extracellular matrix (ECM). Once thought to provide only structural support to tissues by acting as a scaffold to which cells bind, it is now widely recognized that the ECM provides chemical information to the cells with which it interacts. Interestingly, evidence from our lab (and many others) suggests that the mechanical properties of the ECM (i.e., its stiffness or compliance) also provide vital instructional cues to cells, rather than just passive mechanical support. As a result, the view of the ECM has come full circle – from one of a purely mechanical nature, to purely chemical, and now mechano-chemical – supporting the notion that both ECM chemistry and mechanics are critical determinants of cell fate and morphogenesis. We are particularly interested in the ECM's roles in both vasculogenesis and angiogenesis, the two processes by which new blood vessels form in the human body.

Word Cloud Representation of Our Research Interests

We use biomaterials as cell culture platforms in order to better understand mechanobiology and the cell-ECM interface in both 2D and 3D, and then apply our fundamental discoveries to rationally design innovative “cell-instructive” materials that elicit specific molecular behaviors and thereby control cell function. Such cell-instructive materials would have enormous implications for tissue engineering and regenerative medicine applications, and allow for new insights into a variety of pathologies in which cell-ECM interactions are disrupted, including cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Ongoing Research Projects

© 2020 by A. Putnam and the Putnam Lab. All rights reserved.