Decoding morphogenesis in vitro using micro engineered systems and a developmental biology approach
The term morphogen (Greek: ‘form-giver’) has been coined by Alan Turing back in 1952. Morphogens play a pivotal role in organogenesis and homeostasis and represent soluble molecules, which emanate from restricted regions of a tissue and act as graded positional cues that control cell fate specification.
The name of our multidisciplinary lab ‘Morphogenetic Micro Engineering’ is derived from the recently introduced (http://doursat.free.fr/) and rapidly developing field of Morphogenetic Engineering. It particularly emphasizes our approach of using 3D micro engineered/microfluidic systems to control the number, position, polarization, migration, behaviour, and fate of cells in 3D stem cell-based models (embryoid bodies, organoids) e.g. by exposing selected regions or the whole multicellular construct to spatiotemporally defined gradients of soluble molecules. We are intrigued by the idea to recapitulate and guide self-organizational processes in multicellular 3D systems on multiple scales by creating artificial signalling centres and providing cultured cells a fixed extrinsic coordinate system. These new systems will help us to mimic and coordinate tissue- and organogenesis in vitro, to gain new insights into early embryonic developmental processes, and how positional information is processed by cells. By combining micro engineering and 3D stem cell biology, we are exploring new perspectives on self-organizing biological systems in order to identify and elucidate intrinsic rules and key regulatory mechanisms, which are vital to form complex tissues and organs. In the long term, we will use this newly acquired knowledge in more applied contexts to better control wound healing and tissue repair to set the stage for next-generation Regenerative Medicine solutions.