• biomaterials;
  • scaffolds;
  • stem cells;
  • translational medicine;
  • tissue engineering

Oral Diseases (2011) 17, 241–251

The rapid advancement in basic biology knowledge, especially in the stem cell field, has created new opportunities to develop biomaterials capable of orchestrating the behavior of transplanted and host cells. Based on our current understanding of cellular differentiation, a conceptual framework for the use of materials to program cells in situ is presented, namely a domino vs a switchboard model, to highlight the use of single vs multiple cues in a controlled manner to modulate biological processes. Further, specific design principles of material systems to present soluble and insoluble cues that are capable of recruiting, programming and deploying host cells for various applications are presented. The evolution of biomaterials from simple inert substances used to fill defects, to the recent development of sophisticated material systems capable of programming cells in situ is providing a platform to translate our understanding of basic biological mechanisms to clinical care.