The interconnectivity between chemical engineering and biomedical engineering attracts students from both majors to Harris’ lab. Harris, who holds a secondary appointment in biomedical engineering, said, “There is a lot of crossover [in tissue engineering]—it is a natural connection. When I came to UC a year ago, I planned on a lot of collaboration among our departments.”
Led by Harris, DeVine is studying the interactions between cells and the extracellular matrix, and exploring how biomaterials can aid that communication.
One primary reason for poor functional recoveries is that the neurons do not have the proper guidance and signaling from the damaged extracellular matrix to allow targeted growth across the injured tissue. The extracellular matrix is a collection of extracellular molecules (part of a multicellular organism that is outside the cells proper), a scaffolding that provides both physical and chemical signaling and support to all cells in the body.
The project aims to create micropatterned polymers for guidance and to combine with a natural, extracellular matrix to facilitate regeneration and nerve guidance. Harris hypothesizes that a bioactive, aligned polymer will functionally bridge the injury gap and guide neurons along scaffolds to restore function to the injured tissue.
This project will address the urgent need to engineer bioactive materials to guide nerve regeneration to promote functional recoveries in traumatic nerve injuries. These engineered polymers must possess the physical and chemical signals necessary to direct cell and extracellular matrix alignment and growth.