As a scientist with a background in microengineering, I was intrigued early on by the interaction of microsystems with the living world. The field of microengineering includes the exploration of the physics of sensors, actuators and their fabrication at the microscopic scale, the study of materials sciences and the exploration of the new possibilities offered by the integration of these materials into microsystems, and more generally the understanding of microelectronics and programming. This multidisciplinary approach allows to bring creative solutions, in particular for the development of tomorrow’s organ-on-chip platforms.
There is another subject that immediately fascinated me during my PhD thesis: The use of biodegradable materials in interaction with the human body. When I started to study this subject, biodegradable polymers were still only used as suture wires, plates and screws in the context of cranio-maxillo-facial surgery. Then, new biodegradable materials with various mechanical properties were introduced, opening new horizons in the context of tissue engineering and scaffold development. And in the last few years, a new step has been taken with the exploration of biodegradable electronic systems, opening many fascinating possibilities in interaction with surgeons and biologists. Indeed, the main characteristic of such systems is that they are designed to work for a defined period of time, and then reabsorb naturally without leaving a trace. They are completely degradable, including the electronics. The focus of my research is on soft biodegradable materials with tailored electrical, magnetic, chemical and mechanical properties, and their integration into organ-on-chip platforms, in collaboration with biologists, towards improved organs models.
Biodegradable materials that may be of interest in the context of organ-on-chip research include 1) biodegradable natural and synthetic hydrogels and polymers with varying mechanical properties and degradation rates (cellulose, chitosan, fibroin, PLA, PGA, PCL, PGS, POC…), 2) biodegradable metals and metal oxides (Mg, Fe, Zn…), and 3) thin film semiconductors (Si, SiO2…). From these materials, the biodegradable electronic devices that can be envisaged are as varied as inductors capacitors, resistors, diodes, transistors, antennas or batteries. In the context of NOCI, my research will therefore include the development of scaffolds with transient properties within OoC platforms, and if of interest to biologists the development of biodegradable sensors to monitor various physiological parameters, the integration of transient electrodes and actuators allowing in particular the electrical and mechanical stimulation of cells where it makes sense from a biological point of view.
Dr. Clementine Boutry
Assistant Professor, NOCI Researcher at TUD