Biomimetic systems for cell engineering

The Biomimetic systems for cell engineering group is a junior group under IBEC’s Tenure Track scheme.

Elena Martínez Fraiz | Junior Group Leader
Vanesa Fernández Majada | Senior Researcher
Jordi Comelles Pujadas | Senior Postdoctoral Researcher
María García Díaz | Postdoctoral Researcher
Teresa Pérez Berezo | Postdoctoral Researcher
Núria Torras Andrés | Postdoctoral Researcher
Raquel Obregón Núñez | Senior Technician
Gizem Altay | PhD Student
Enara Larrañaga Carricajo | PhD Student
Anna Vila Giraut | PhD Student
Maria Valls Margarit | Research Assistant
Dilara Jakupovic | Masters Student
Fabio Variola | Visiting Researcher


Cross-section of a cardiac tissue construct cultured in a perfusion bioreactor with electrical stimulation. A primary culture of neonatal rat cardiomyocytes was seeded in a 3D collagenelastin matrix. Collagen fibers (orange) were imaged using two-photon second harmonic generation (SHG), and elastin fibers (green) using autofluorescence. As cells have a high degree of autofluorescence they are also shown in green, densely packed in the right part of the image.

In vitro assay platforms involving human cells are increasingly important to study tissue development, tissue regeneration, construct models of disease or develop systems for therapeutic screening that predict the human in vivo context.

The main conceptual problem of the standard in vitro cell-based assays is that they rely on two dimensional monolayer cellular cultures, which fail to replicate the complexity of living systems. There is an urgent need to create technological platforms with complex cell culture systems that mimic better the tissue-like cellular microenvironment.

Our lab is interested in the development of new biomimetic systems for cell-based assays that account for the structural, physiological and biochemical features of the in vivo cellular microenvironment. Specifically, we develop systems that mimic the heterogeneity of the tissue extracellular matrix for cell engineering. Advanced designs include the structural anisotropy intrinsic to tissues such as heart muscle or bone, the binding of specific ligands and the capability of generating gradients of regulatory signals. These biomimetic systems will provide the interface between biological questions and engineering tools to (i) develop new insights into environmental regulation of cells, (ii) investigate diseases, and (iii) develop new therapies for regenerative medicine.

Hydrogel microstructures mimicking villi of the small intestinal tissue. They have been fabricated of PEGDA polymer and functionalized with labelled protein (in red).

Hydrogel microstructures mimicking villi of the small intestinal tissue. They have been fabricated of PEGDA polymer and functionalized with labelled protein (in red).

3D rendering of villi-like microstructures fabricated of an hydrogel and seeded with Caco-2 cells. Scale bar = 200 µm.


GLAM support for leukemia research

The GLAM project, of which IBEC’s Biomimetics for Systems for Cell Engineering group leader Elena Martínez is a partner, is supporting the 3rd Festa StandupPaddle (SUP) in aid of leukemia research in Barcelona on 24th April.

IBEC researcher wins ERC Consolidator Grant for research into intestinal diseases

Elena Martinez, head of IBEC’s Biomimetic Systems for Cell Engineering group, has been awarded a prestigious European Research Council (ERC) Consolidator Grant to engineer models of the intestinal epithelium, an essential tool for understanding disease and tissue regeneration.


EU-funded projects
COMIET Engineering Complex Intestinal Epithelial Tissue Models (2015-2020) ERC Consolidator Grant Elena Martínez
GLAM Glass-Laser Multiplexed Biosensor (2015-2019) European Commission (H2020) – PHC-10-2015 Elena Martínez
National projects
MINAHE5 (Bio)funcionalización de Micro- y NanoHerramientas en Suspensión para Aplicaciones en Células Vivas (2015-2017) MINECO Maria LLuïsa Pérez


Garreta, E., de Oñate, L., Fernández-Santos, M. E., Oria, R., Tarantino, C., Climent, A. M., Marco, A., Samitier, M., Martínez, E., Valls-Margarit, M., Matesanz, R., Taylor, D. A., Fernández-Avilés, F., Izpisua Belmonte, J. C., Montserrat, N., (2016). Myocardial commitment from human pluripotent stem cells: Rapid production of human heart grafts Biomaterials 98, 64-78 [Open Access]

Lagunas, A., Sasso, B., Tesson, N., Cantos, C., Martinez, E., Samitier, J., (2016). Synthesis of a polymethyl(methacrylate)-polystyrene-based diblock copolymer containing biotin for selective protein nanopatterning Polymer Chemistry 7, 212-218 [Open Access]

Lagunas, Anna, Martinez, Elena, Samitier, Josep, (2015). Surface-bound molecular gradients for the high throughput screening of cell responses Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology 3, Article 132

Galan, Teresa, Lagunas, Anna, Martinez, Elena, Samitier, Josep, (2015). Fabrication of bioactive polypyrrole microelectrodes on insulating surfaces by surface-guided biocatalytical polymerization RSC Advances 5, 82, 67082-67088

Estévez, M., Martínez, E., Yarwood, S. J., Dalby, M. J., Samitier, J., (2015). Adhesion and migration of cells responding to microtopography Journal of Biomedical Materials Research - Part A 103, 5, 1659-1668

Comelles, J., Hortigüela, V., Martínez, E., Riveline, D., (2015). Methods for rectifying cell motions in vitro: Breaking symmetry using microfabrication and microfluidics Academic Press 125, 437-452

de Oñate, L., Garreta, E., Tarantino, C., Martínez, E., Capilla, E., Navarro, I., Gutiérrez, J., Samitier, J., Campistol, J.M., Muñoz-Cánovas, P., Montserrat, N., (2015). Research on skeletal muscle diseases using pluripotent stem cells InTech , 333-357

Comelles, J., Caballero, D., Voituriez, ., Hortigüela, V., Wollrab, V., Godeau, A. L., Samitier, J., Martínez, E., Riveline, D., (2014). Cells as active particles in asymmetric potentials: Motility under external gradients Biophysical Journal 107, 7, 1513-1522

Oberhansl, S., Garcia, A., Lagunas, A., Prats-Alfonso, E., Hirtz, M., Albericio, F., Fuchs, H., Samitier, J., Martinez, E., (2014). Mesopattern of immobilised bone morphogenetic protein-2 created by microcontact printing and dip-pen nanolithography influence C2C12 cell fate RSC Advances 4, 100, 56809-56815

Garcia, A., Hortigüela, V., Lagunas, A., Cortina, C., Montserrat, N., Samitier, J., Martinez, E., (2014). Protein patterning on hydrogels by direct microcontact printing: application to cardiac differentiation RSC Advances 4, 55, 29120-29123


Micro and nanofabrication techniques:

  • Biomolecule gradients produced by microfluidics
  • Large-area nanostructured polymer surfaces produced by diblock copolymers
  • 3D microstructures on hydrogel materials
  • Mini-bioreactor for 3D cell culture

Characterization techniques:

  • Surface Plasmon Resonance (SPR) measurements on polymer materials
  • Atomic Force Microscope (AFM) expertise
  • Optical Microscopes (white light/epifluorescence)
  • Focused Ion Beam (FIB) / Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM) of biological specimens


  • Biological safety cabinet (class II)
  • High precision syringe pumps
  • Peristaltic pumps
  • Access to the Nanotechnology Platform (IBEC Core Facilities): equipment for hot embossing lithography, polymer processing and photolithography, chemical wet etching, e-beam evaporation and surface characterization (TOF-SIMS)
  • Access to the Scientific and Technological Centers (University of Barcelona): equipment for surface analysis (XPS, AFM, XRD) and microscopy techniques (SEM, TEM, confocal)


  • Prof. Josep Samitier
  • Prof. Ángel Raya / Dr. Samuel Ojosnegros
    Center of Regenerative Medicine in Barcelona (CMRB), Barcelona
  • Dr. Núria Montserrat
  • Dr. Daniel Riveline
    ISIS/IGBMC, Strasbourg (France)
  • Dr. Matthew Dalby
    University of Glasgow, Glasgow (UK)
  • Prof. Eduard Batlle
    Institut de Recerca Biomédica (IRB), Barcelona
  • Prof. Fernando Albericio
    Institut de Recerca Biomédica (IRB), Barcelona
  • Prof. Jordi Martorell
    Institut de Ciències Fotòniques (ICFO), Castelldefels (Spain)
  • Prof. Pablo Loza
    Institut de Ciències Fotòniques (ICFO), Castelldefels (Spain)
  • Prof. Martí Gich
    Institut de Ciència de Materials de Barcelona (ICMAB), Bellaterra (Spain)
  • Prof. Rosa Villa
    CNM-SCIC, Bellaterra (Spain)

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