Area B.2: Regenerative Technologies

Area B2 is subdivided into two Collaborative Research Unit (CRU) 7, ‘Regenerative Materials and Laser Engineering’  and the newly established CRU 8 ‘Imaging Platform’.

CRU 7: Regenerative Materials and Laser engineering

Sketch of Biological Laser Printing

Within the ‘Regenerative Materials’ group, different tailor-made functionalized polymers and regenerative agents are synthesized for specific applications in tissue engineering. Within REBIRTH I, a comprehensive tool kit for biocompatible functionalized polymers for use as a bio-artificial extracellular matrix was developed and applied for different purposes. In order to apply biohybrid devices to patients such that tissue-specific compatibility is ensured, general procedures for the functionalization of organic and inorganic surfaces are available. These techniques allow the functionalization of inert materials in such a way that certain cell types grow easily and efficiently on the surfaces. New synthetic tools were established for the synthesis of highly functional and highly active small molecules for application in stem cell differentiation, biofilm inhibition and antiproliferation.

The laser engineering activities can be subdivided into four different subunits:

  • Laser printing;
  • Nanosurfaces;
  • Nanoparticles;
  • and Laser manipulation and cellular engineering.

Several nanomaterials can be generated via laser technologies. Nanocarriers for directed and stimulus-induced ion, drug or gene delivery can be produced in a highly pure and productive manner. These laser techniques can also be used for the functionalization of biological devices and implants, and the nanomaterial itself can be used as nanosensors for biolabelling and bio-imaging. A major aspect of the laser engineering work within the research consortium is the generation of 3D scaffolds via laser printing using two-photon polymerization techniques. The fabrication of 3D scaffolds with microfluidic channels as a model system for vascularization is possible. This printing activity enables implantable tissues to be created by means of functional vascularization. The laser printing device allows the printing of living cells and biomaterials in 3D structures. In tissue engineering, this system serves as a model for the (future) printing of complete organs. Additionally, the printing system can be used to arrange cells and biomaterials in this specific pattern for cell and cell-environment studies. This opens up a new area of pharmacological testing.

The laser engineering group developed a sophisticated optical-transfection platform with protocols for a variety of cell types. This optical-transfection system makes it possible to transfect single cells in mixed cultures or tissues (including primary and stem cells) with extremely high efficiency and without addition of chemicals or biological agents for the transfection process. This optical-transfection technique can also be used to transfect single cells within a cell consortium.

CRU 8: Imaging Platform

Within REBIRTH II, a new imaging platform for all researchers within this REBIRTH consortium has been established. The complexity of regenerative processes, which take place at successively more complex levels (molecular, cellular, tissue, organ, organism), require visualization of structure and function by a comprehensive set of imaging tools. They are centralized here. These tools – both well-established and newly developed ones; all optimized for applications in regenerative medical research – range from the nanometre resolution scale of small samples (electron microscopy and tomography), cell imaging by advanced light microscopy (confocal and multiphoton fluorescence) and non-destructive micrometer resolution imaging of medium-sized objects (optical-coherence tomography and scanning laser optical tomography), to non-invasive live imaging of small animals (MRI, PET-CT, SPECT-CT) and humans (MRI). Thus, pathological and repair processes can be characterized morphologically (organ, tissue, cell (ultra)structure) and physiologically (motility, metabolism, perfusion). In addition, target structures (e.g. labelled cells or gene products) can be traced and analysed with regard to their localization and distribution. Important aspects are correlative (hybrid) approaches combining multiple imaging modes on one and the same sample, automated high-throughput techniques for screening purposes, and the use of imaging datasets as input for further analysis by 3D reconstruction and quantitation by stereology and image analysis.