The goal of regenerative medicine is to control an individual’s healing response after trauma, working at the cellular level to repair damaged tissue. However, to successfully intervene in tissue repair, there must be a basic understanding of the types of signals cells receive from their environment and how these cues are interpreted. Biomedical devices interact with cells, intentionally or not, in a variety of ways: architectural properties (ex. porosity, isotropy), chemical cues and mechanics. The difficulty in tailoring these interactions lies in the fact that these material properties are often interrelated. Understanding the contribution of each material property towards specific biological responses, will lead to more effective translation of biomedical implants. Taking bone as an example, we have explored how implant chemistry and mechanics affect cell behavior at different stages of healing, acting synergistically to promote new bone formation. Another aspect of translating devices is ensuring optimal functionality for all uses, including surgeons, radiologists, and patients. We are currently exploring whether the incorporation of radiopacity into the polymeric biomaterials commonly used in medical devices, will allow radiologists to diagnose implant damage prior to a catastrophic failure that has devastating consequences for patients. Altogether, there are many ways to advance regenerative medicine through innovative materials.
Dr. Pawelec works at the interface between materials science and biology. She has a PhD from the University of Cambridge, studying how architecture is formed in porous polymeric materials via freeze-drying, a theme that was continued as a Marie Curie Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Fujifilm. A major focus of her research has been understanding how materials properties can be utilized to direct fundamental cellular responses in regenerative medicine. Working in many tissues, including bone and nerve, she has demonstrated the need for careful engineering of materials and the early consideration of factors related to device use in the clinic. As well as serving as the CEO of a biotech start-up, the strong emphasis on clinical translation in Dr. Pawelec’s work has resulted in two patents and a deep interest in the scalability and manufacturability of devices that promote tissue regeneration