In tissue engineering and regenerative medicine, “scaffolds” are typically three-dimensional (3D) fibre-based or porous structures that are designed to carry cells and/or therapeutically active molecules. These scaffolds may be used to culture cells in 3D for subsequent use as advanced in vitro models or implanted in a patient to encourage the regeneration of healthy, functional tissues. In the early stages after surgery, scaffolds may also provide a useful additional mechanical support for the lost or injured structures, until the recovering local host tissues have developed and been fully integrated within the patient's body. The Bioengineering & Health Technologies Group is concerned with the development of advanced scaffolds that contribute additional functionality or regenerative capacity.
The main tissues of interest where the Group are actively engaged in scaffold research are bone, cartilage, oral mucosa, and periodontal ligament. Craniofacial bone is of course vitally important for function and aesthetics in the head, neck and face, and this research has obvious implications for other specialties including orthopaedics. Scaffolds for bone are commonly based on bioceramics and composites, and we work extensively on the development of novel porous ceramic structures for bone tissue engineering. Cartilage tissue engineering scaffolds research is directed at both polymeric systems for articular hyaline cartilage, and ceramic or composite systems for hypertrophic cartilage. In periodontal ligament scaffold research, the main interest is in understanding the role of orientation and mechanical loading in fibre-based systems.
Our most recent projects involve the use of advanced manufacturing technologies to produce complex layered or even custom-shaped scaffolds with properties tailored for specific clinical applications. These will ultimately be suitable for use as regenerative medical devices that can be deployed to harness to the patient's own healing potential without the implantation of expanded autologous or other cells.