Bioengineering cellular environments to guide stem cell self-organization

Professor Matthias P. Lutolf 
Institute of Bioengineering, Institute of Chemical Sciences and Engineering, Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Lausanne, Switzerland

Hydrogels are crosslinked polymer networks that store large amounts of water. Major components of tissues in our body are built of dynamic hydrogels, termed extracellular matrix (ECM), composed of complex mixtures of proteins and sugars that are secreted by cells. The ECM is specific to a particular cell and tissue type and provides numerous biochemical and biophysical signals that instruct cells to perform specific functions, for example, to multiply, migrate or differentiate. The instructive role of the ECM is crucial in building a tissue, in keeping it functional over long periods, and in regenerating it after damage.  Inspired by nature, we have been developing fully synthetic and dynamic hydrogels that can mimic some of the key functions of natural ECM. In this talk, I will highlight recent efforts in my lab to develop hydrogels that emulate the native hydrogels that control the unique functions of stem cells in our tissues. Specifically, I will describe our emerging molecular toolbox to fabricate tissues in vitro based on hydrogel-guided stem cell self-organization.  

Professor Matthias Lutolf is the director of the Institute of Bioengineering and head of the Laboratory of Stem Cell Bioengineering at EFP Lausanne. He was trained as a Materials Engineer at ETH Zurich where he also carried out his Ph.D. studies on the development of a novel class of biomaterials for tissue engineering (awarded with ETH medal in 2004). Lutolf carried out postdoctoral studies at the Baxter Laboratory in Stem Cell Biology at Stanford University on microenvironmental (‘niche’) regulation of somatic stem cells. He started up his independent research group at EPFL with a European Young Investigator (EURYI) award. By interfacing advanced biomaterials engineering, microtechnology and stem cell biology, a major goal in his lab is to uncover mechanisms of stem cell fate regulation; knowledge that will contribute to better ways to grow stem cells in culture and use them for various applications.