Elly Van der Heyden

Studying structure and dynamics of new biomimetic polymer gels using advanced microscopy
Started on October, 2020

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Living tissues are more than packed cells. In fact, much of a tissue's volume is made up of extracellular space, filled with a complex meshwork of sugars, water, minerals and proteins called the extracellular matrix (ECM). Biological scaffold materials derived from the ECM of intact mammalian tissues have been successfully used in a variety of tissue engineering/regenerative medicine applications. However, most of these materials will never make to the clinic due to issues with source, contamination and the risk of triggering an immune response.In the last years a great effort has been made in the development of new synthetic biomimetic materials. The adjustable mechanical properties and chemical composition provides more control over the material and thus over the induced cellular behaviors. In this project the student will characterize new synthetic materials based on polyisocyanopeptide (PIC) gels. Albeit fully synthetic, this unique type of gels resembles greatly the protein fibers encounter in the natural ECMs. Due to their soft, complex and heterogeneous structure, classical characterization techniques come short. Objective: Investigate the heterogeneous structure and mechanical properties of these gels, at the nano- and micrometer scale, using advanced microscopic methods.