SUpervised MOrphogenesis (SUMO) is part of a portfolio of projects funded under the Engineered Living Materials Pathfinder Challenge by the European Innovation Council and started on November 2022.
With this Pathfinder ELMs Challenge the EIC seeks to seize the opportunity to position strategically Europe at the forefront of the ELMs field. This Pathfinder Challenge aims to overcome the technological challenges to harness the engineering potential of nature for materials’ production. The specific objectives of Pathfinder ELMs Challenge are to support the development of new technologies and platforms enabling the controlled production of made-on-demand living materials with multiple predictable dynamic functionalities, shapes and scales; and to build a community of researchers and innovators in ELMs.
ELMs projects funded from the EIC Open calls actively contribute to the Portfolio activities with the aim to advance the scientific and technological development of ELMs and promote its dissemination across Europe, increase the visibility of the ELMs community internationally by sharing knowledge and building partnerships, engage with regulatory bodies to address ELMs portfolio needs, address ethical, legal and social aspects through early engagement with policymakers and the public, and to assess and address the need for standardization in the ELMs portfolio, identify barriers to the adoption and commercialization of ELMs and engage with stakeholders, guided by responsible research and innovation methods.
Seven projects have been funded under the ELMs Challenge. The ELM Portfolio draws these projects together with the aim of identifying common challenges and opportunities, defining common objectives, and conducting shared activities with the aim of amplifying impact within the ELM field. The projects are as follows:
1. BioRobot-MiniHeart (Engineering a swimming bio-robot and a living human mini-heart)
Coordinator: University of Twente (NL)
Project partners: 4
Key-words: tissue engineering, biosensing, stem cells, cardiovascular diseases, physiology
Manufacturing our very own hearts is just a heartbeat away, literally. Engineers are joining forces with biologists to make biological heart robots. The EU-funded BioRobot-MiniHeart project is developing a vascularised beating mini-heart. In parallel, the team is designing a self-propulsion swimming bio-robot created by assembling human cardiac cells into 3D tissue structures; using sacrificial moulding and high-resolution 3D bioprinting.
The mini-heart and the bio-robot will provide scientists with a more realistic human cardiac model in vitro and an appropriate tool to assess cardiotoxicants’ presence in the environment. We expect this innovation to help speed up the development of heart disease cures.
2. Fungateria (Combining fungi and bacteria into novel biomaterials)
Coordinator: Royal Danish Academy – Architecture, Design, Conservation (DK)
Project partners: 6
Key-words: bacteriology, synthetic biology, mycology
Engineered living materials (ELMs) are composed of living cells endowed with unique properties and functions. ELMs have received significant attention in materials sciences due to their tunability and potential for sustainable production. Funded by the European Innovation Council, the Fungateria project aims to generate an innovative portfolio of ELMs that combine fungi with bacteria.
Growing the vegetative part of the mushroom—the mycelium—on different organic substrates is the most common way of producing fungi-based materials. The project will combine the mycelium with bacteria that serve as a chassis for sensor-containing genetic circuits. The resultant ELMs will exhibit advanced functionalities and inducible degradation when no longer needed.
3. Furoid (Up-scaled, continuous production of artificial hair, fur, and wool follicles.)
Coordinator: BIOFABICS LDA (PT)
Project partners: 3
Key-words: textiles, ecosystems, additive manufacturing, transplantation
The mission of FUROID is to enable the animal-free production of hair (humans), fur (endangered animals), and sheep wool. Our innovative approach will use a combination of nanostructured scaffolds (RESPILON), hair/wool/fur organoids (GENEUS), and automated biofabrication technologies (BIOFABICS) to develop engineered living fur (ELF). We plan to design continuous and scalable technology that can dominate the market by 2030.
Our ambition to develop hybrid living materials-based products will deliver a set of distinctive properties:
- Animal free-production of fur (ELF) and wool (ELW) without environmental, biodiversity and ethical concerns
- Gene-encoded traceability system endangered species unnoticed, uncontrolled and unpunished endangered species poaching
- Novel vacuum-assisted 3D printing technology overcoming the speed of SoA 3D bioprinters
- Continuous manufacturing using an automated production system
- DBTL platform for rational design and product optimisation
- Living human hair follicles (ELH) for transplantation as a medical and psychological treatment for alopecia
- Fur and wool textiles for the apparel industry in rolls without size limitation
- Improved properties of engineered fur/wool textiles due to nanofiber membranes with regulated water permeability
The project will strengthen the portfolio of Engineered Living Materials, developing scalable and generalisable technology for forming textured materials in the roll-to-roll process from mammalian cells.
4. LoopOfFun (Fungi-based engineered living materials with controllable properties.)
Coordinator: Albert Ludwigs University of Freiburg (DE)
Project partners: 5
Key-words: Mycology, electrical engineering, sensors
Fungi comprise approximately 100 000 described species to date. The real total is estimated to be in the millions. They are amazing factories, producing numerous bioactive metabolites of therapeutic interest. The EU-funded LoopOfFun project has recognised their potential in yet another innovative area – as part of engineered living materials (ELMs), with open- and closed-loop control of mechanical and structural properties. The project will identify fungi gifted with superior abilities for materials synthesis and harness them for synthetic biology-based programming. The programming will be accomplished via a novel automatic robotised platform to develop the fungi into ELMs based on iterative design-build-test-learn cycles. The outcomes will then support the rational design of such materials.
5. Next Skins (Living Therapeutic and Regenerative Materials with Specialised Advanced Layers)
Coordinator: Delft University of Technology (NL)
Project partners: 3
Key-words: bacteriology, dermatology, biomolecules, ceramics
Compared to conventional materials, biomaterials in living organisms possess specific architecture and organisation: and often exhibit multiple functions. Εngineered living materials (ELMs) have emerged at the junction of synthetic biology and material science to produce materials with improved functionality because of the living organisms within them.
Funded by the European Innovation Council, the NextSkins project is inspired by the structure and function of the many layers of skin. Researchers will mimic the specialised skin arrangement to make two engineered living materials: one with a therapeutic role to treat skin diseases and one with a purpose to be used as a protective garment in sports.
6. Prism-LT (Living tissue manufacturing using symbiotic materials)
Coordinator: IN society (IT)
Key-words: bacteriology, stem cells, bioprinting,
Project Partners: 6
The EU-funded PRISM-LT project will use a hybrid living materials concept to create a flexible platform for living tissue manufacturing. The innovative bio-ink will contain stem cells integrated into a supporting matrix with engineered helper bacteria or yeast cells. The bioprinting process will produce a 3D patterned structure where stem cells could be induced to differentiate into different lineages. The directed stimulation of differentiating stem cells will force them to produce lineage-specific metabolites for sensing by the designer helper cells. The helper cells within the platform will then enhance localised lineage commitment to sustain differentiation stability. The project aims to implement this strategy for the development of two symbiotic materials designed for biomedical and food applications, respectively.
7. SUMO (SUpervised MOrphogenesis in gastruloids as an alternative to conventional single-tissue organoids)
Coordinator: Oslo University Hospital (NO)
Project partners: 7
Key-words: artificial intelligence, developmental biology, stem cells, physiology
The lack of realistic in vitro organ models that faithfully represent in vivo physiological processes is a major obstacle affecting the biological and medical sciences. The current gold standard is animal experimentation, but it is increasingly evident that these models mostly fail to recapitulate human physiology. Moreover, animal experiments are controversial, and it is a common goal in the scientific community to minimise the use of animals to a strictly necessary minimum.
The emergence of stem cell-engineered organ models called organoids represents the only viable alternative to animal research. However, current organoid technology is yet to produce the larger physiologically relevant organ models that the medical sciences need. Specifically, current organoids are too small, not vascularised and lack the 3-dimensional organisation found in vivo.
In this interdisciplinary project, we aim to challenge all these limitations using the recently developed gastruloid technology guided by cutting-edge bioengineering and artificial intelligence.
Gastruloids are formed by initiating the very early developmental processes and develop along a highly coordinated three-axial process that closely resembles mammalian embryogenesis. They can establish several organ precursors simultaneously, thus constituting relevant improvements over conventional single-tissue organoids.
To harvest the potential of gastruloid technology, we will first implement extensive sequencing and imaging experiments to optimise the developmental trajectory of gastruloids for organ inductions. We will then build these datasets into a multimodal data matrix to identify gastruloid candidates for cardiovascular and foregut development. Candidates with substantial vasculogenesis will be chosen for later vascularisation by anastomose with endothelial cells.