Biomimetics is the word most frequently used in scientific and engineering literature that is meant to indicate the process of understanding and applying (to human designs) biological principles that underlie the function of biological entities at all levels of organization. Researchers use the inspirations found in nature to emulate "life's genius" for the purpose of improving manufacturing processes, creating new medicines, changing the way people grow food, or harnessing energy. McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine
faculty member Steven Little, PhD (pictured), Assistant Professor in Pitt’s Department of Chemical Engineering with joint appointments in Bioengineering, Immunology, and Medicine, is a biomimetician. As reported in PittMed, in his lab he has managed to manipulate what’s manmade so it behaves as though it’s part of nature.
Dr. Little and his colleagues are focused on a variety of biomimetic-type research projects. Examples of what is occurring in his lab include:
- using synthetic vasculature to deliver growth factors to accelerate wound healing;
- encouraging tissue growth by creating artificial and biodegradable, yet bioactive, scaffolding;
- delivering genetic material to immune cells by using synthetic pathogens;
- engineering a homogenous and essentially inexhaustible supply of antigen-presenting cells that can spur or limit an immune response more efficiently than their natural cousins;
- engineering a drug-delivery particle that will present an immunosuppressant drug to dendritic cells only;
- making drug delivery vehicles that can be custom-crafted to release a specific drug over a particular time course; and,
- investigating a strategy for summoning cells through the controlled release of chemokines.
Dr. Little says he and his colleagues are at the beginning of what may become a new discipline. This excites him. “Biomimetics is tremendously new,” he says. “We are definitely pushing the limits of what chemical engineers do and what bioengineers do.”
“That’s what makes me so excited about it,” he says. “It just looks at this stage to be limitless in what we might be able to accomplish.”
Illustration: McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine.
Pitt Med (Winter 2008)
Bio: Dr. Steven Little