Smart Biomaterials for Modulation of the Immune Response towards Regenerative Wound Healing

Non-healing, chronic wounds, such as diabetic, venous, and pressure ulcers, are the most common skin wounds globally, behind surgical incisions and minor lacerations. Due to their occurrence in growing populations, such as the elderly, obese, and diabetic, there is a growing prevalence of chronic ulcers which is not being met by the emergence of new and effective therapeutic approaches.

Cutaneous wound healing is a complex and dynamic process dependent on the interaction between various cells, bioactive factors, and the supporting matrix within the microenvironment of a wound. The immune system plays a key role in regulating the wound healing process. The activation of immune cells and signalling factors initiate the inflammatory process, facilitate wound cleansing, and promote regenerative tissue repair. Dysregulation of the immune system leads to persistent inflammation and delayed healing or non-healing wounds.

It is proposed that immune cells in the wound environment are not only regulated by the well-characterised role of biochemical signalling induced by cytokines and chemokines, but also transduction of biophysical stimuli through cell interactions with the surrounding microenvironment. This project aims to investigate the effect of the biophysical properties of the extracellular microenvironment on monocyte differentiation and macrophage plasticity using 3-dimensional defined, controlled, and tuneable hydrogel systems, which effectively mimic extracellular matrix (ECM) microenvironments. Both a synthetic biomimetic polyisocyanopeptide-based hydrogel, which allows de-coupled control over integrin peptide ligand and mechanical parameters, and a fibrin hydrogel, which recapitulates the endogenous natural matrix for wound healing, will be explored.

By elucidating the pathways through which macrophages respond to ECM stimulus, smart design of natural and synthetic biomaterials can be used to provide therapeutical solutions to guide chronic wound resolution and prevent scar formation.

​Michaela graduated from the University of Queensland in December 2020 with a Bachelor of Chemical and Biological Engineering (Honours). She also completed part of this undergraduate degree at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the United States of America. She began her PhD at the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology in July 2021 under the supervision of Prof Alan Rowan and Dr Amanda Kijas

Michaela is a recipient of the UQ Entrepreneurial Top-Up Scholarship and scholar in the Andrew N. Liveris Academy for Innovation & Leadership.


​​This project is in collaboration with the Burns, Skin and Wounds team, led by Dr Jason Brown at Herston Biofabrications Institute within the Royal Brisbane Women’s Hospital.