Dr. Syed-Picard’s research program focuses on using tissue engineering to generate devices for dental and craniofacial regenerative therapies and as controllable model systems to study basic biological processes. She is particularly interested in investigating mechanisms facilitating the natural development of organized multi-tissue structures and applying these developmental mechanisms to generate complex engineered tissues for regenerative therapy. Her laboratorypredominately uses 3D cellular scaffold-free tissue constructs (SFCs) since these biomimetic tissues closely emulate naturally formed tissues. Scaffold-free, 3D tissue engineering presents an innovative platform where cells generate and organize their own preferred 3D tissue utilizing their endogenous matrix for structure. These constructs are additionally powerful since several types SFCs have been shown to self-assemble into spatially organized multi-tissue structures, a challenge that still remains with traditional tissue engineering methods. Below are the ongoing tissue systems currently being generated and studied in the laboratory.
We have shown that scaffold-free tissues engineered using dental pulp stem/progenitor cells self-assemble into a dentin-pulp complex. We are currently investigating the use of these constructs as a regenerative endodontic therapy. We are also using these engineered constructs as a model to study tissue patterning. We are investigating the mechanisms directing the dental pulp cells to organize into a dentin-pulp complex. During natural tissue development, cell migration and the expression of morphogen gradients are two critical components of tissue patterning. We are currently studying the role of these processes on the patterning of our engineered tissues. We are using advanced microscopy to study the migratory behavior of populations of progenitor cells in our 3D engineered tissues. Also, we are analyzing the effects of growth factor gradients on the patterning of our tissues using custom-built microfluidic devices.
We are currently designing scaffold-free periodontal tissues from dental stem/progenitor cells. These engineered tissues could be used as a regenerative therapy to treat periodontal disease and also a model system to study the assembly and interactions of the very diverse tissues found in the periodontium.
Full tooth root
With the development of scaffold-free dentin-pulp complexes and periodontal tissues discussed previously, we are currently developing methods to combine these structures to engineer a scaffold-free tooth root. This engineered structure will provide a natural, regenerative therapy for tooth replacement. Also, this construct will provide a model system to study the development and patterning of several types of distinct tissues and also the interactions of multiple types of stem/progenitor cells from varying tissue origins in producing and maintaining a complex dental structure.
Due to their neural crest origins, dental stem/progenitor cells have a great potential for nerve regeneration therapies. We are currently using scaffold-free tissue engineering techniques with dental stem/progenitor cells to develop two different types of these therapies. First we are designing scaffold-free nerve conduits that can be used to bridge peripheral nerve gaps caused by damage or disease. Second, dental stem/progenitor cells are known to express neurotrophic factors (NTF) capable of repairing damaged axons. We are designing scaffold-free constructs with NTF-secreting cells to act as a NTF delivery system to promote the repair of damaged neurons.