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Developing Innovative Biomaterials

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An interview with Dr. Ali Khademhosseini, Professor, Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology. 

Recipient of over 40 major national and international awards, including the 2017 Clemson Award for Contributions to the Literature from the Society of Biomarterials, Dr. Khademhosseini is playing a pivotal role in developing technologies that are transforming the future of tissue engineering.

We spoke to Dr. Khademhosseini to learn a little about his career and the work his lab is doing to create innovative biomaterials that can help address a variety of biomedical challenges. 

AM: How did you become interested in science?

AK: I was a late bloomer.  Only after taking chemistry in high school I became interested in chemical engineering.  I thought that it was really interesting to learn about how complex systems operated.

AM: What have some of your most rewarding achievements been so far?

AK: I have developed an array of innovative technologies and advanced biomaterials for solving key medical challenges. We have developed a smart bandage that senses the wound environment and deliver therapeutics on demand. We have developed surgical glues that eliminate the need for suturing to prevent the leakage of body fluids. Recently, I have used innovative materials that stop blood flow and can replace coils in treatment of vascular disorders. 

Watch this video to learn more about the Smart Bandaid. 

AM: Can you tell us about your lab's main research directions?

AK: Developing new materials has always been a significant part of my research and I am constantly looking for materials that can address different biomedical applications, which includes bio-adhesives, cell permissive hydrogels, elastomers. I am now focused on the use of human-based proteins such as elastin, gelatin, and keratin for developing innovative biomaterials with tunable characteristics. In addition, we have been one of the leading labs in the areas of 3D bioprinting. We are also active in organs-on-a-chip research.

You can read more about a new technology platform that Dr. Khademhosseini has recently developed, which enables automated and continual monitoring of organs-on-chips here. 

AM: Why are biomaterials such an important area to study?

AK: Cells are live systems. Similar to other live organisms, they interact with their environment and change their function and differentiation lineage in the case of stem cells, to adapt to the environment. In another word, if you control their environment, somehow, you are controlling the cells behavior. Similarly the response of the human body to any therapy or device can be affected by the utilized materials. Thus, studying and tailoring these materials for the targeted applications is of great importance.

AM: Can you tell us more about the modular bioink-based method of tissue engineering you have recently developed?  What advantages do bioinks and organs on chips offer over previous methods of tissue engineering?

AK: 3D bioprinting is a strong tool that enables us to mimic the architecture of native tissues. This is key to the engineering of functional tissues. In addition, the use of biologically relevant inks that support proper cellular function is important. Despite development of a number of biologically relevant materials, their use in 3D printers has been a challenge and we are trying to develop inks of these materials that are easy-to-print. 

You can find out more about the single cell microgel based modular bioinks that Dr. Khademhosseini is developing here.

The field of organs on a chip has emerged to fill the gap between the in vitro model, animal models, and human clinical trials as in a number of cases the outcomes of these steps do not correlate. The goal is to engineer tissue models that mimic human tissues and can predict the response of the human body to drugs.  

AM: What future work do you have planned?

AK: We believe that each patient has its own specific challenges, which is dictated by his genome and environmental conditions. Thus, I believe that the concept of generalized therapeutics that one therapy fits everyone might not be optimal. So we have been aspired to develop technologies to enable personalized medicine. For example, organ on chip platforms will eventually enable us to culture patient specific cells and look into their response against different drugs to determine the optimal condition for individual patients.

Dr. Khademhosseini was speaking to Anna MacDonald, Editor for Technology Networks.