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Introduction

Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine

Tissue Engineering is the application of engineering principles towards the formation, repair or regeneration of tissues. The ultimate goal of tissue engineering is the capability to produce organs on demand, eliminating the need for donors. Regenerative Medicine falls within the umbrella of tissue engineering, except it is more translational and concerns application to patients.

The paradigm of tissue engineering is to combine cells, a scaffold to support the cells, and biochemical factors to guide the cells towards forming a tissue from the combination. The biomechanical and physio-chemical properties of selected scaffolds are generally tuned to model the native environment of the tissue of choice. Bioactive factors are selected for their ability to guide cells towards desired behaviors.

Challenges

The biggest challenge to tissue engineering is vasculature. Contrary to what is shown in many television medical dramas, we can't simply 3D print a heart and expect it to work. The body has a complex vascular system, in which every cell is no more than 250 micrometers from a capillary. That is about the width of 2 human hairs. This is because oxygen can't diffuse further than this, so all cells must be close to a capillary or they will suffocate. Unfortunately for tissue engineering, growing a vascular system is very complex and the only successful tissue engineered tissues to date are very thin, like artificial skin and artificial bladders, or are avascular (never had veins), like an artificial trachea. Fortunately, the field is zeroing in on the proper bioactive factors that have shown promise growing rudimentary blood vessels in synthetic polymer scaffolds.


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