Nexus Blog

Living Porous Materials

Unlocking Synergy: The Collaboration between a Bioengineer and a Hydrogeologist

May 15th, 2024

Welcome to our exploration of an extraordinary collaboration between two distinct scientific fields: bioengineering and hydrogeology. In this blog, Prasanna Padmanaban, a Postdoctoral Fellow at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL), and Amir Raoof, an Associate Professor of Hydrogeology and Geochemistry, delve into their groundbreaking work on tissue vascularization and porous materials. Discover how their partnership could potentially revolutionize the clinical applicability of engineered tissues.

Finding Inspiration in Unexpected Places: A LinkedIn Connection Leads to Innovation

“I received a fascinating LinkedIn message from Amir about the SoS project,” recalls Prasanna. “It arrived while I was deeply engaged in preparing the EIPOD4 project proposal.” His simulation results of the pore network model sparked something within me. As I delved into his work, I couldn’t help but notice the striking resemblance between the porous rock structures fabricated in Amir’s lab and the vascular networks I was planning to create with my project.

“The structural similarities between vascularized tissues and porous rocks are striking,” notes Prasanna Padmanaban.

Hierarchically Engineered Anastomosable Tissues (HEAT)

In the HEAT project, Prasanna and his team explore the influence of fluid flow dynamics on vascular development in both native and engineered tissues. Understanding these dynamics helps bioengineers use flows to control and fabricate functional multiscale tissues on a chip. This project utilizes in vivo models, in vitro models, and computational models to study the complex processes of blood vessel formation, remodelling, and organization.

The organization of blood vessels in in vivo models is controlled by heart-driven blood flows, while in vitro models are influenced by fluid flows driven by pressure gradients. Various chemical factors are also incorporated into the tissue to gain better control over blood vessel organization.

Pumping heart is a fluidized porous media

The pumping heart, a marvel of biological engineering, serves as the central organ of the circulatory system, tirelessly propelling blood throughout the body. Similarly, porous media, characterized by interconnected void spaces, play a crucial role in the transport of fluid and gases in various natural and industrial processes. This side-by-side comparison illustrates the profound similarities between the flow of fluids in soil pores and blood in the vascular system, highlighting the potential for cross-disciplinary innovation.

This side-by-side comparison illustrates the striking similarities between the flow of fluids in soil pores (left) and blood in the vascular system (right). Both systems rely heavily on the size and connectivity of their pores to facilitate fluid movement. Although traditionally studied from distinct perspectives – geological and biological – integrating methods and insights from both fields can lead to groundbreaking advancements in our understanding and manipulation of these complex networks.

Opening new horizons….

With this research collaboration, Prasanna Padmanaban, Amir Raoof, and their team are exploring the fusion of microfluidics and porous materials to unravel the mysteries of blood vessel formation and engineered tissues. The EIPOD4 project “Hierarchically Engineered Anastomosable Tissues (HEAT)” led by Prasanna, co-funded by Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions and the European Molecular Biology Laboratory, aims to revolutionize our understanding of how blood vessels form, remodel, and organize within different-sized tissues.

The integration of stable macro and micro-sized blood vessels within tunable porous materials holds clinical potential, serving as alternative donor tissue and platforms to test drugs. “Blood vessels are often present within a complex fluidized porous matrix, challenging to characterize,” says Prasanna. “But we want to change that.”

“We go beyond studying the blood vessels, embracing a versatile approach that encompasses metamaterials, tissue phantoms, and organ-on-chip devices. By exploring this interdisciplinary landscape, we aspire to unlock new insights into tissue engineering and porous materials-driven regenerative medicine,” say Prasanna Padmanaban and Amir Raoof.

The Figure shows the porous structures fabricated using glass masks to study flow dynamics (left) and microvessels structures fabricated using microfluidics chip containing blood vessel forming (endothelial) cells and support (fibroblast) cells in fibrin-based hydrogel system regulated by pressure-driven flows (right, copyright Haase Lab, EMBL Barcelona).

Join us on this journey!

We invite you to join us on this innovative journey. Stay tuned for upcoming posts where we’ll share the latest developments and insights from our ongoing research. Together, let’s advance the frontiers of tissue engineering and porous material studies.