Imagine that you are having a problem with fertility. Your body went into premature ovarian failure and lacks the ability to make its own estrogen. With tissue engineering, scientists will be able to make ovarian follicles and insert them into your body. Within a short period of time, your body will now have enough estrogen and a baby is on its way.
Or imagine that you have a serious lung infection or a lung tumor which destroys part of your trachea. You’re having major problems breathing and you need a lot of help. You go to your doctor who decides to grow you a trachea. After it’s grown with all your own cells, he calls you and says it’s time to come in for surgery; your new trachea is ready. It’s inserted in the surgery and immediately after the surgery, you can already breathe a lot easier.
Or maybe your brother comes back from military work and he’s a physical mess. In combat, he was harmed and is missing an ear. His knees are shot and he’s missing a finger as well. With tissue engineering, the ear and finger are grown in the laboratory, and with surgery, they are sewn onto his body. They’re functional almost immediately. And tissues were grown that could replace the ACL in the knee so he can now walk again just as good as he could before the knee issues started.
Or imagine that your mother develops a tumor in her face and it progresses to the point where surgery is the only option. She goes to get surgery but so much tissue and bone had to be removed that her eye has slipped down to a lower position in her face and the middle of her cheek down to her mouth is sunken in. She finds another doctor who decides that she needs tissue engineering. With a few bones from her leg, the doctor builds a new structure for the bones in her face. Then he constructs new tissues to fill in the rest of her face.
All these are cases where tissue engineering may be used. They haven’t really happened yet – with the exception of the last one – but researchers and doctors are working together to make it a reality in the next few years. Believe it?
Tissue engineering will eliminate anyone from ending up like Christopher Reeve – in a wheelchair for the rest of his life from a spinal cord injury. It will prevent people who have Parkinson’s disease such as Michael J. Fox end up dying of the disorder and suffering horribly along the way. Tissue engineering will also prevent women from making the unfortunate decision of undergoing a double mastectomy just because they are surrounded by several women in their family that have already had breast cancer.
In 1921 when Frederick Banting discovered insulin, he knew that insulin was just a stepping stone on the journey of medical science. He made the statement, “Insulin is not a cure for diabetes”, knowing full well that insulin could only be used as a crutch temporarily until a real breakthrough came that was a true cure. That real breakthrough is regenerative medicine using stem cells and tissue engineering to replace the pancreas that is not functioning well with one that is from one’s own body tissues.
Regenerative medicine uses the master cells of the body – the stem cells that create all the replacement parts for the body.
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How is a New Organ or Tissue Created?
And scientists involved in the field of tissue engineering are the ones in between the doctor and the patient that creates the ways that new body parts may be created.
What they’ve discovered recently is that in the process of creating a new heart, new organ, new ovary or new tissue, what’s needed is more than just stem cells. You can’t just inject stem cells in the body randomly and expect the cells will know exactly what to do. Instead, the stem cells need scaffold materials to grow onto.
The scaffold materials could be likened to a ‘nest’ where the stem cells grow. However, unlike a nest for baby birds, the nest is a place where the stem cells will stay and perform all their necessary functions.
The scaffolds are made of collagen, alginate, glass, ‘tissue rubber’ or any other substance that has been found to work quite well. The scaffolds may be created with a bioprinter (a 3D printer that prints materials for the human body), and are then called constructs. The constructs are put inside the patient’s body, such as in the ovary region.
The constructs may be porous so that the stem cells can colonize them, or thicker to have more of a solid structure. Sometimes they may have beads on them to hold the stem cells. Sometimes they are made of materials that will degenerate over time; the matter is then extruded from the body but the regenerated organ is left whole and functioning. Other times they are built of materials that will remain in the body.
Here’s an interesting video on Regenerative Medicine and Tissue Engineering:
Now the problem is how to replace the joint. Traditional medicine replaces the joint with metal but metal only lasts 10-15 years. Therefore anyone younger than the age of 70 really shouldn’t get the metal joint replacement.
But with tissue engineering and regenerative medicine, a joint is printed up in the bioprinter and the patient is prepared for surgery. He’s getting a new joint.
This scenario hasn’t actually happened yet. It’s still in the animal study phase but when the bioprinted joint was inserted into rabbits, the rabbit was walking like a normal rabbit after the first two months. On the x-ray, you could see that the construct had definitely been used to grow the new bone and cartilage cells and the joint looked like a much younger joint.
In one of the recent medical journals called The Lancet, a quote from a top regenerative medicine scientist stated, “We have been awaiting advances in joint replacement research with the hope that we might one day grow individually customized biological joint replacements for patients in the laboratory.”
That day is rapidly approaching.
The day is also approaching where stem cells from adipose tissue are added to a hybridized gel structure to create breast tissue for the breast. Think of all the women who may be in need of a mastectomy could have it to remove the damage from cancer – and then would get a brand new breast in its place.
Currently stem cells from adipose tissue are used to fill in a very small hole or defect in a breast, such as if a breast nodule is removed, but when the size of the nodule gets too large, this doesn’t work. That’s why you need tissue engineering.
4 Things Tissue Engineers Need to Build a New Organ
Tissue engineering depends on four things:
The right stem cells that will create the right tissues
The right environment, such as the right scaffolding
The right biomolecules, such as the right growth factors
The right physical and mechanical forces to influence the cells
There’s been much progress made in the development of urinary bladders, tracheas, cartilage, skin grafts, and small arteries.
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