This review focuses on novel applications based on multifunctional materials to actuate biological processes. The first section of the work revisits the current knowledge on mechanically dependent biological processes across several scales from subcellular and cellular level to the cell-collective scale (continuum approaches). This analysis presents a wide variety of mechanically dependent biological processes on nervous system behaviour; bone development and healing; collective cell migration. In the second section, this review presents recent advances in smart materials suitable for use as cell substrates or scaffolds, with a special focus on magneto-active polymers (MAPs). Throughout the manuscript, both experimental and computational methodologies applied to the different treated topics are reviewed. Finally, the use of smart polymeric materials in bioengineering applications is discussed.