Tissue Engineering Research Group

Bringing together biological and engineering principles and expertise to develop biological substitutes

Tissue engineering is a multidisciplinary field which brings together biological and engineering principles and expertise to develop biological substitutes. The key elements of such a strategy are cells, a physical scaffold or matrix upon which these are seeded and finally bioactive molecules to control cell behaviour. In our group we use this approach to model the oral cavity in health and disease. Members of the group have previously developed 3 dimensional in vitro oral mucosal models consisting of epithelial and connective tissue layers for testing of oral healthcare products or modelling oral cancer invasion, periodontal disease and denture stomatitis. Future work will also utilise this technology to model denture wear and salivary gland repair processes.
Current and recent projects
  • In vitro modelling of the oral mucosal response to denture wear. Simon Whawell (PI), Zoe Brookes & Vehid Salih (Collaborative study with Haleon plc)
  • In vitro modelling of denture stomatitis utilising a 3-dimensional oral mucosal model. Vehid Salih (PI), Simon Whawell, Zoe Brookes. (Collaborative study with Haleon plc)
  • Does cellular heterogeneity within tumour microenvironments modulate the invasive capacity of oral squamous cell carcinoma cells in vitro. Simon Whawell (PI), Charlotte Illesley. (University of Plymouth studentship)
<p>Tissue engineering: growing cells in culture <br></p>
Tissue engineering: growing cells in culture
<p>A H&amp;E section of a 3D oral mucosa in vitro model after dual species infection with C. albicans and S. aureus<br></p>
A H&E section of a 3D oral mucosa in vitro model after dual species infection with C. albicans and S. aureus


  • de Carvalho Dias K, de Sousa DL, Barbugli PA, Cerri PS, Salih VM & Vergani CE 2018 'Development and characterization of a 3D oral mucosa model as a tool for host-pathogen interactions' Journal of Microbiological Methods 52-60 , DOI Open access
  • Jennings LR, Colley HE, Ong J, Panagakos F, Masters JG, Trivedi HM, Murdoch C & Whawell S 2016 'Development and Characterization of<i>In Vitro</i>Human Oral Mucosal Equivalents Derived from Immortalized Oral Keratinocytes' Tissue Engineering Part C: Methods 22, (12) 1108-1117 , DOI
  • Eriksson TM, Day RM, Fedele S & Salih VM 2016 'The regulation of bone turnover in ameloblastoma using an organotypic in vitro co-culture model' Journal of Tissue Engineering 7, (0) , DOI Open access
  • Pinnock A, Murdoch C, Moharamzadeh K, Whawell S & Douglas CWI 2014 'Characterisation and optimisation of organotypic oral mucosal models to study Porphyromonas gingivalis invasion' Microbes and Infection 16, (4) 310-319 , DOI

PhD studentships

Tissue engineering and oral cancer

Oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC) represents a significant clinical burden in the UK with rising incidence and little recent change in patient outcomes. The extent and pattern of invasion into local tissues is an important diagnostic feature and the role of the tumour microenvironment has been the focus of much current research. Three dimensional in vitro models of oral mucosa can be employed to mimic and model this tumour microenvironment and this project will specifically examine the role of more invasive subpopulations of OSCC cells in driving the behaviour of less invasive cells along with the role of fibroblasts and extracellular matrix components. Histological and molecular techniques will be employed to examine the extent and pattern of invasion with this information potentially identifying novel diagnostic and therapeutic targets.

Oral cancer and angiogenesis

Applicants are invited for a 3 year self-funded PhD, including bench fees, to study whether periodontal bacteria play a role in regulating oral tumour angiogenesis mechanisms. The project will involve the tissue culture and 3D oral cancer models, as well as qPCR, microscopy, and protein assays. Results would help to determine whether the bacteria that cause periodontal disease also enhance the growth of OSCC tumours, providing an additional, modifiable target for reduction of oral cancer risk.