Interview with Elena Martínez, coordinator of Brighter Project

What is your role within Brighter and what it entails?

I am the scientific project coordinator, so I am in charge of supervising the scientific tasks carried out by my team but also of coordinating the different workpackages among the BRIGTHER partners to be sure that deliveries are on time and the project objectives are fulfilled.

Could you tell us a little bit about the concrete work you’re involved in inside Brighter project?

As the main promoters of BRIGTHER new bioprinting concept, IBEC is the in charge of coordinating the full proposal at the scientific and managing level. My role is to propose key experiments that will transform BRIGTHER’s idea from a concept to a first prototype working in a lab environment. Then, I supervise data analysis and interpretation to decide what are the follow-up actions. In practice, at IBEC experiments are carried out by a team composed of two postdocs and one PhD student that I personally supervise.

What is the expected impact of the work you’re doing and of the project as a whole?

The project as a whole is expected to impact in the way the bioprinting process is conceived so far, aiming to improve the main drawbacks of current techniques, which either allow to have high resolution or high printing speed but not both at the same time. BRIGTHER concept will produce a new device based on light-sheet microscopy able to print skin tissue surrogates from custom made polymer materials. High speed printing impacts directly on the cell survival ability, one of the main problems of bioprinting techniques, while high resolution will allow to fine tune the geometry and mechanical properties of heterogeneous tissues such as skin. The work we are performing at IBEC will provide the working parameters of the customized “bioinks” to be successfully used with the BRIGTHER prototype.

In the context of bioprinting of human tissues, what are some of things you’ve found easy/challenging to work with?

Bioprinting human tissues that are functional is a challenging task. Cells have a limited life span when they are outside of their native matrix and are very sensitive to parameters such as shear forces applied. Time is then a crucial point for this task.

Do you have any lessons to share for the future?

I believe the future of bioprinted tissues will come from combining different technological approaches with finely tuned materials that will provide cells with the minimum number of signals sufficient for them to exploit their self-organization capabilities. It will be like mimicking developmental processes but starting with adult cells of the tissues instead of embryonic cells. Probably the use of cell-derived from organoids from adult tissues will be key in this process.

Dr. Elena Martínez obtained her PhD in Physics at the University of Barcelona in 2001 and afterwards she moved to Switzerland to develop a postdoctoral research at the Ecole Polytechnique de Lausanne (EPFL). Back to Barcelona in 2003, her research was funded by one of the prestigious “Ramon y Cajal” Spanish grants at the PCB (Barcelona Science Park) where she was in charge of the technological infrastructure “Nanotechnology Platform”. In 2008 she joined the Nanobioengineering group at IBEC (Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia) as senior researcher, and from 2013 she leads her own research group at IBEC, the Biomimetic systems for cell engineering lab. Her research group aims to develop biomimetic systems combining engineering microfabrication technologies, tissue engineering and stem cell research. Currently, she is also Associate Professor at the Faculty of Physics from the University of Barcelona.