Division of Bioengineering

Research Themes

The research activity within the Division is focused in the following principal themes:

Predictive Modelling

Microvascularised chips developed in the Gautrot LabThe development of new medical devices and drugs is based on a costly and often ineffective system of testing safety and efficacy which is decades out of date. As a result there is a serious attrition in the delivery of new healthcare products which is damaging to industry, the economy and the health of the nation.

To address this need, a key bioengineering theme at Queen Mary University of London is Predictive Bioengineering in which innovative approaches are developed for testing safety and efficacy of healthcare products including pharmaceuticals, biomaterials, medical devices and other therapeutic solutions. The resulting bioengineering models and methodologies will provide ethically acceptable, cheaper, faster and more reliable predictive testing which will advance the delivery of healthcare innovation.

In particular activity is focused on two areas:

  1. Organ-on-a-chip models that mimic the physiological and pathological environment of different body organs for drug testing; and
  2. Computational and experimental testing methodologies that predict the performance of biomaterials and medical devices.

To develop these models and methodologies this research in predictive bioengineering is underpinned by multidisciplinary expertise in biomaterials, microfluidics, biomechanics, sensors and computational modelling. We are supported by industrial stakeholder partners including those wishing to use these bioengineering testing platforms (e.g. GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer, Baxter Healthcare, DePuy and Wellspect), as well as those  developing them (e.g. EmulateBio, Kirstall, Reprocell Europe, BiogelX, Axosim Technologies, CN Bio Innovations and FormFormForm). 

Existing projects in this area include the development of organ-on-a-chip and other in vitro models for the study of cancer, cartilage injury, and fibrosis; the development of orthopaedic biomaterial testing platforms and new cardiovascular device testing.

Biomaterials and Bio-interfaces

Peptide-based nanofibers developed in the Azevedo LabResearch in the fields of Biomaterials and Biointerfaces in SEMS focuses on the design of bioactive and biofunctional materials with applications in tissue engineering, drug delivery, medical diagnostics and biosensing and the design of medical implants. In particular, our multidisciplinary team of experts in these fields develops novel concepts enabling the synthesis, self-assembly, microfabrication and processing of biomaterials, their structural and mechanical characterisation, and their biofunctionalisation to confer enhanced biocompatibility and tissue healing and regeneration. Examples of biomaterials and biointerfaces platforms developed in our department include the development of novel generations of hydrogels and scaffolds that regulate stem cell phenotype for tissue engineering applications, drug and gene delivery systems that allow the targeting of specific tissues for the treatment of diseases such as cancer with minimal systemic toxicity, the design of point-of-care biosensors enabling the rapid monitoring of life-threatening diseases in countries with poor biomonitoring infrastructures, and the engineering of implants with improved lifetime and biocompatibility to address key challenges of our ageing population. In addition, our group has an established track record in the translation of biomaterials as evidenced by the very successful synthetic bone graft substitute materials marketed by Baxter and Progentix Orthobiology (see Impact).

To this aim, we have developed international leadership in key areas that underpin the design and use of biomaterials and biointerfaces for biomedical applications:

  • Convergent top-down and bottom-up approaches, combining nano- and micro-fabrication platforms with the self-assembly of soft matter (peptides, amphiphiles, polymers).
  • The precise control of biomaterials chemistry, from soft (hydrogels and microcapsules) to hard (bioceramics), and bioactivity.
  • The design of biomimetic materials that recreate some of the structural and biofunctional features of biological systems and their dynamics.

Biomechanics and Mechanobiology

Cardiomyocytes spreading on micropillars developped by the Iskratsch Lab

The sensing of mechanical and physical cues by cells is an emerging field and has been shown to play a role in a variety of processes, including embryogenesis, bone formation and remodelling, or vascular remodelling after exercise. It has also been increaslingly recognised to play a role in disease processes, such as metastasis, atherosclerosis and hearing/pain sensing. The School of Engineering and Materials Science at Queen Mary University of London has a long standing leading track record in biomechanics (the mechanics of cells and tissues) and mechanobiology (the mechanisms regulating their response). Our multidisciplinary team investigates the importance of mechanical stimuli in health and disease over the spectrum of length scales, from the whole-body to individual molecules. This includes the elucidation of biophysical molecular processes regulating mechanotransduction, and the dynamical (epi)genetic response of mechanotransductive pathways, as well as translational applied bioengineering to develop novel implantable biomaterials, devices and tissue engineered products. Specifically, our division is developing the following thematics:

  • The biological response of cells and tissues to biomechanical, topographical and physiochemical stimuli in health and disease using methods including live cell and super-resolution imaging, tools to apply and measure cellular forces (microfluidics, AFM, nanoindentation, nano/micro-patterns) synthetic biology (gene editing via CRISPr-CAS9) and cellular modelling.
  • The biomechanics of tissues (healthy and diseased) and biomaterials (natural and synthetic) at the macro, micro and nanoscales. This includes the modelling of hard and soft tissues and their interfaces, the study of fluid flow and the mimicking of muscle biomechanics with electrostimulated systems.