Towards intelligent design of tissue engineering constructs for complex biological tissues – advanced 3D microstructural and mechanical tissue characterization

Organs and body parts are made of composite tissues in which tissue layers are structured by their extracellular matrix to provide biomechanical and biochemical cellular support. Tissue engineering constructs are nowadays biological or synthetic scaffolds seeded with cells. Biological tissue engineering constructs are derived from human native decellularized composite tissues. They can then be re-cellularized with cells before re-implantation in the receiver by a novel process in ongoing development. Synthetic scaffolds are limited by the lack of knowledge about the structural and functional properties of composite tissues. My goal is to determine with a high level of detail the full three dimensional morphology of the different types of extra cellular matrix within native composite tissues. It will require the development and optimization of novel advanced characterization techniques such as contrast-enhanced micro-computed tomography (CECT). Concerning the mechanical testing, composite tissues, as almost all soft tissues exhibit a viscoelastic behavior. Their mechanical response is thus time-dependent with creep, relaxation and hysteresis and is thus non-linear. I will work in collaboration with Prof N. Famaey from KU Leuven for this characterization. A further evaluation could be done using CE-CT imaging with 4D microCT to visualize the evolution of the tissue with time.