With an increasingly aging population, new treatment solutions for diseased, defective, or damaged tissues need to be developed. Although human donor material would be preferable for these purposes, this is often not available and often associated with medical and/or ethical drawbacks. Therefore bio-engineered tissues need to be developed that can serve these goals. Tissue engineering aims at the development of biological products that repair, regenerate or replace tissues and/or organs and it is foreseen that tissue engineering and regenerative medicine (TERM) will become of eminent importance in maintaining an active and healthy population in Europe.
A limitation to the study of engineered tissues is the inability to quantitatively analyze the structure of the tissue formed. Imaging tools are needed that enable a more thorough analysis of tissue formation to better understand biological response following a tissue engineering strategy.
The overarching scientific objective of iTERM is the development of new materials and implants for the bio-engineering of soft tissue (skin, urogenital) and hard (bone) tissue as well as state-of-the-art novel multimodality visualisation procedures to monitor the behaviour of the implants. Usage of a wide breadth of technologies is required to reach this goal.
iTERM will develop new MR acquisition methods necessary to track the fate of newly developed materials and the tissue regeneration and remodelling process. The advantage of MR is its non-invasive character, biocompatibility, high resolution, tissue depth, and the possibility to combine functional and anatomical information, providing excellent insight in regeneration processes. Additionally, MR image acquisition does not require ionizing radiation and translation of the developed materials to clinical implementation can be achieved relatively easy. MR imaging requires little patient preparation, is non-invasive leading to high patient acceptability.
To allow MR-imaging iTERM will develop hybrid materials, scaffolds and hydrogels for soft and hard tissue engineering exploitable for multiple tissues. Scaffolds will be constructed from collagen/degradable polymer, collagen/degradable polymer/thermosensitive hydrogels, in combination with growth factors and/or newly developed MR imageable nanoparticles, and degradable scaffolds will be developed that allow live monitoring of the degradation process. Additionally methods will be developed to improve skin tissue engineering to cover large (burn) wound areas and/or fistulas. For bone tissue engineering next generation bone healing matrices will be developed that can serve in bone reconstruction, preventing harvesting of bone chips. Novel bone healing factors will be characterized and bone substitutes will be combined with MRI imageable nanoparticles, enabling live monitoring of the cement fate and bone regeneration.