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2021 Allen Distinguished Investigator award

The Allen Distinguished Investigator program provides three-year grants between $1M and $1.5M to individuals and teams

Actuoids: guided tissue morphogenesis using soft actuation

Lab-grown mini-organs known as organoids are far from the real thing — while these tiny clumps of tissue derived from human stem cells are yielding more insights about human biology than individual cells grown in a dish, they’re missing several key elements of actual organs. One important missing factor may come from a lack of physical structure and pressure on the clumps as they develop; our own organs are subject to many mechanical forces during development that influence their shape and identity. Adrian Ranga, Ph.D., is leading a project to apply the emerging field of “soft robotics” to brain organoid development, using newly developed materials and devices to stretch and fold brain organoids as they grow. Their hope is to generate brain organoids that more closely mimic a real portion of the developing human brain; specifically, ones that fold into a central neural tube and that develop distinct layers of tissue. More realistic brain organoids have the potential to improve drug discovery for human brain diseases and disorders as well as influence the field of regenerative medicine.

Adrian Ranga headshot

Adrian Ranga, Ph.D.

KU Leuven

This project is part of the 2021 Synthetic biology advances for human tissues cohort

The field of synthetic biology has made incredible advances in recent years, and yet the complexity of mammalian biology presents an additional challenge for scientists aiming to engineer tissue or organoids in the lab. The investigators in the Mammalian Synthetic Development cohort are working to cross many of the barriers to mammalian synthetic biology, including several approaches to improve the development and engineering of organoids, lab-grown mini-organs typically derived from human stem cells. Their work spans many parts of the human body, including the liver, lungs, brain, and connective tissues.