Regrowing muscle tissue from 3D replicas of live cells
12 June 2018
Doctoral student Azadeh Hashemi from UC’s College of Engineering | Te Rāngai Pūkaha and the Biomolecular Interaction Centre is working toward her ultimate goal of helping to replicate cells and regrow lost muscle tissue.
Originally from the Iranian capital of Tehran, Azadeh came to Aotearoa New Zealand four years ago to pursue a doctorate in Electrical and Computer Engineering. Having studied applied physics and plasma engineering in her bachelor’s and master’s degrees respectively, Azadeh began looking for research-based projects. She came across an interesting project by Dr Volker Nock, a senior lecturer in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, whose interests included surface modiﬁcation with a biological application.
Dr Nock had previously worked with Professor Maan Alkaisi and a former doctoral student,
Dr Lynn Murray, to apply a technique originally utilised in an imaging tool to its current use in biomimetic cell culture substrates, which could have tissue engineering applications. Getting in touch with Dr Azam Ali from the University of Otago, who worked on demonstrating micro and nanopatterning of protein based materials, Dr Nock was intrigued by the possibility of combining bioimprinting with the protein material. This is where Azadeh’s project started.
While her master’s project had involved surface modiﬁcation on aluminium using plasma, for her doctorate, Azadeh focused on creating a 3D imprint or replica of live cells onto ﬁlms made of casein, a milk protein. Working with UC’s Biomolecular Interaction Centre, she developed the processes of replicating a cell’s features or bioimprints on casein ﬁlms with high resolution in order to cross-link the ﬁlms to make them biocompatible and allow her to put cells
“According to some studies, cells cultured on surfaces which have cell like features behave diﬀerently,” says Azadeh.
“We created these cells in the hope that we could guide the way the cells grow. Since the ﬁlms – the substrate – were made of protein, they were biodegradable and would degrade after a certain amount of time, so we’d be left with just the grown tissue. If we can create cells to turn into muscle cells or skin, for example, after the substrate degraded, we’d be left with a layer of skin, so we can regrow tissues or diﬀerent types of cells.”
Azadeh says she has met challenges during her doctorate.
“You learn how to work independently. I had to learn a lot of biology and cell culture because I previously worked on engineering in bioengineering. But it was a huge achievement when I managed to put cells on the ﬁlms,” she says.
“I’ve loved every second of the research environment; I would never change it for the world. I’ve had wonderful supervisors, the team have been great, the people in the lab have been very helpful and I’ve loved being hands-on.
“My favourite part is how I’ve come out from the other end of the doctorate, how I deal with problems and how I think, and how I do things and overcome problems. I love who I am today and that’s from what has happened in the last four years through the doctoral process.”
Dr Volker Nock says that the approachability of UC’s world-leading academics and their willingness to collaborate across disciplines, rather than having a protective attitude to original ideas, are an advantage. He adds that his role is to guide a person’s development from being a student to an independent researcher and that, to make this transition, the student needs to discover outstanding questions and how they ﬁt into the overall picture of scientiﬁc knowledge.
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