Engineering Professor Awarded Seed Grant for Biomaterial Research

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Harvey Mudd College engineering professor Steven Santana has been awarded a $10,000 seed grant by the Social Science Research Council’s Sloan Scholar Mentoring Network to fund research on printing biomaterials for tissue-engineering applications.

Santana and his research students will be focusing their efforts on creating tissue models with property gradients through enhanced mixing of viscoelastic materials.

Bioinks are dispensed by bioprinters and typically consist of mixtures of polymer precursors and water —3D printers used to fabricate tissue-mimicking with materials that are engineered to mimic aspects of native tissues. Bioprinters can revolutionize health outcomes and our understanding of cell biology by printing tissue models that enable us to investigate healthy and diseased tissues, test new drugs and treatments and develop personalized therapies, Santana explained in his proposal. Bioprinting has the potential to transform health and recovery at multiple scales, for example through tissue replacement and discovery of cell-cell communication mechanisms.

“Many labs and companies design and use bioprinters,” Santana said. “We’re trying to add a new function to these printers that will enable the production of materials with engineered properties in targeted areas.” 

Santana explained that the physics of mixing associated with viscoelastic materials can limit the efficacy of this system.

“If we can find a way to change how bioinks flow through the dispenser and mix them efficiently, we can print virtually any kind of tissue we want,” Santana said. “But we need to balance the impact of processes that would inspire greater mixing with those that would damage cells contained within the bioinks. That’s the trade-off.” Santana explained that mixing bioinks too aggressively could damage the cells contained within bioinks.

The Social Science Research Council is a nonpartisan nonprofit that was founded by seven professional associations in the social and behavioral sciences and mobilizes policy-relevant social and behavioral science for the public good.

Only members of the Sloan Scholar Mentoring Network are eligible for this award. Santana has been a part of the network for 10 years.