Tissue engineering strategies to model homeostatic variations of extracellular matrix


Challenge we’re trying to solve

Aging and diseased states, such as cancer and inflammation, are responsible for the stiffening of tissues. The increase of tissue stiffness and associated pathologies affects a large portion of worldwide population; only in the UK there are ~12M people aged over 65 and there are more than 350,000 new cancer cases yearly.

3D models are needed to recreate human tissues and study the functionality of tissues outside of a living organism. Building 3D models controlled in size and shape, as well as proportion of included cell types, is challenging since human tissues are made of fluid and elastic components. The combination of this components and cells is what determine the stiffness of a tissue.

Interdisciplinary research is on-going to develop tissue engineered 3D models to better understand biological (and clinically relevant) processes and improve current treatments (e.g. use these models to predict effects and evaluate efficacy of therapies).

How we approached it

Researchers across UoM developed alginate-based bioinks, which are able to preserve cells’ viability and functionality. The bioinks were then used to fabricate 3D models able to replicate physical and chemical properties of tissues. 

Who was involved

Led by Dr Annalisa Tirella, FBMH, and Dr Marco Domingos, FSE, interdisciplinary and collaborative research projects were developed across UoM, with cancer biologists, clinicians, academics, PGRs and PDRAs involved.


A library of alginate-based bioinks has now been characterised and used to print 3D structures, replicating tissue architecture at the microscale, as well as typical stiffness values. There is proven evidence for the feasibility of the proposed innovation to be applied to engineer and model normal and aged/diseased soft tissues (e.g. breast, prostate).