Smart biomaterial platforms: Controlling and being controlled by cells

Ameya R. Narkar, Zhuoqi Tong, Pranav Soman, James H. Henderson

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Across diverse research and application areas, dynamic functionality—such as programmable changes in biochemical property, in mechanical property, or in microscopic or macroscopic architecture—is an increasingly common biomaterials design criterion, joining long-studied criteria such as cytocompatibility and biocompatibility, drug release kinetics, and controlled degradability or long-term stability in vivo. Despite tremendous effort, achieving dynamic functionality while simultaneously maintaining other desired design criteria remains a significant challenge. Reversible dynamic functionality, rather than one-time or one-way dynamic functionality, is of particular interest but has proven especially challenging. Such reversible functionality could enable studies that address the current gap between the dynamic nature of in vivo biological and biomechanical processes, such as cell traction, cell-extracellular matrix (ECM) interactions, and cell-mediated ECM remodeling, and the static nature of the substrates and ECM constructs used to study the processes. This review assesses dynamic materials that have traditionally been used to control cell activity and static biomaterial constructs, experimental and computational techniques, with features that may inform continued advances in reversible dynamic materials. Taken together, this review presents a perspective on combining the reversibility of smart materials and the in-depth dynamic cell behavior probed by static polymers to design smart bi-directional ECM platforms that can reversibly and repeatedly communicate with cells.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number121450
StatePublished - Apr 2022


  • Cell activity
  • Computational
  • Dynamic
  • Extracellular matrix
  • Reversible
  • Smart materials

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Bioengineering
  • Ceramics and Composites
  • Biomaterials
  • Mechanics of Materials


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