Within the Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Bioengineering Lab, research focuses on augmenting and improving the surgeon’s capabilities to manage and reconstruct major tissue injuries through developing bioengineered therapies.

Research

Bioengineered scaffolds to repair large and long tissue defects

For most major tissue defects, using an “off-the-shelf” tissue replacement, rather than a tissue flap or autograft, is limited by the size of the tissue defect. The lab is focused on determining how to improve bioengineered tissue-replacements, such as scaffolds used for skin grafting, fat grafting, and nerve grafting. We are currently focused on how to improve nerve graft alternatives, such as nerve guidance conduits or tissue-engineered acellular nerve allografts. As determined by the Peripheral Nerve Surgical Research Labs, as the length and size of these alternatives increases, regeneration and functional recovery decrease substantially. These studies revealed that the cells repopulating these alternatives differ as a function of length and size. This knowledge is used to design approaches to improve regeneration. 

We are designing scaffolds that “tune” the immune response within long and large scaffolds to facilitate regeneration, in ways similar to how these endogenous processes normally facilitate regeneration across smaller and shorter versions of scaffolds. Our scaffolds are primarily naturally-derived materials, such as extracellular matrix proteins, as they serve as ideal scaffolding for cellular growth and angiogenesis. As well, we have developed these scaffolds to incorporate drugs to promote specific immune responses. We are working with Dr. Mikhail Berezin’s group to image these biomaterials as a drug is released and cells invade the scaffolds. 

An injectable drug delivery system containing fibrin (green) and cytokines (red) was loaded within the scaffold to modulate the immune response to promote regeneration.

Therapeutic electrical stimulation protocols to promote regeneration

Electrical stimulation (ES) used as a therapy has been an “experimental medicine” for over a century. More recently, ES has been found to have various effects on cells, including regulation of their motility, migration, replication, assumption of multipotent phenotypes, and apoptosis. Furthermore, ES has also been investigated in diverse cell types, from embryonic stem cells to more terminally differentiated cells like cardiomyocytes, endothelial cells, Schwann cells, and neurons. We are interested in learning more as to how ES can be used to enhance tissue regeneration. In particular, given the rise of dissolvable and implantable ES devices, the ability to implant a device to target any cell, at any period during regeneration, is becoming a therapeutic reality. 

One prominent use of ES is to promote nerve regeneration, which involves both neuronal and non-neuronal mechanisms to elicit responses that activate endogenous repair machinery. Repaired nerve injuries supplemented with electrical stimulation (ES) therapies have demonstrated potential to improve recovery beyond what is achieved by expert surgical repair alone. We are interested in learning more about which type, and how, specific electrical stimulation protocols are effective in promoting nerve regeneration as a first step to further understand its ability to promote other forms of tissue regeneration.  

Our data using rat nerve injury and repair models demonstrated that electrical stimulation improves nerve regeneration and recovery, similar to a clinically-relevant scenario.
Personnel

Principal Investigator

Matthew D. Wood, PhD

Assistant Professor of Surgery

  • Received his graduate degrees in Biomedical Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis. 
  • Post-doctorate at the Hospital for Sick Children and the University of Toronto under the co-mentorship of Drs. Gregory Borschel, Molly Shoichet, and Tessa Gordon. 

Staff

Lauren Schellhardt, BA

Research Assistant and Lab Manager

  • Lab Manager
  • Coordinates the regulatory aspects to the lab including environmental health and safety, lab equipment and certification, supply procurement, as well as animal care.
  • Performs preparation, imaging, and analysis of tissues.
  • Performs behavioral studies to measurefunctional changes.

Daniel Hunter, RA

Senior Scientist

  • Senior Scientist
  • Histological preparation of tissues for lightand electron microscopy.
  • Dan has over 30 years’ experience in histology and microscopic analysis of nerve.

Trainees

Jesús A. Acevedo Cintrón

MSTP (MD/PhD) Student

  • MSTP (MD/PhD) student within the Division of Biology and Biological Sciences (DBBS)
  • Research Question: How can immune responses be modulated to improve angiogenesis and regeneration across acellular scaffolds used to repair large tissue injuries?

Junichi Sayanagi, MD

International Post-doctoral Fellow

  • International Postdoctoral Fellow
  • Research Question: How can electrical stimulation protocols be improved to translate therapies to the clinical to treatnerve injuries.

John Daines BS

Medical Student

  • Medical Student
  • Research Question: How can immune modulatory therapies be used to improve treatment of nerve injuries?
Publications

Matthew Wood’s publications can be found here.

Opportunities

Medical Students

We provide research opportunities for medical students coordinated through the office of medical student research. Students are first encouraged to determine their primary interests within the scope of the group’s projects. Throughout the research experience, each student meets regularly with their primary mentor, as well as all investigators during weekly meetings. 

More information can be found about this opportunity through the office of medical student research: https://mdstudentresearch.wustl.edu/find-a-project/programs/.

Next step? After discussing with the office of medical student research, send an email with your CV to woodmd@wustl.edu about your interest. A follow-up email and/or interview will be scheduled. 

Graduate Students

We provide research opportunities for graduate students (Masters) to complete their thesis within the Lab. These opportunities are coordinated through a variety of different programs offered through Washington University: 

  • A Masters in Arts via the Division of Biology and Biomedical Science (DBBS) 
  • A Masters in Science via the Department of Biomedical Engineering 

Next step? After admission to one of these programs, send an email with your CV to woodmd@wustl.edu about your interest. A follow-up email and/or interview will be scheduled. 

Contact Us

Matthew D. Wood, Ph.D. | Scientific Director, Plastic Surgery Research Laboratories 

Washington University School of Medicine 
Clinical Sciences Research Building, Rm 3352 
4925 Children’s Place 
St. Louis, MO 63110 

Wood’s Office Phone: 314-362-1275 

Lab Phone: 314-362-8322