ReSource, Volume 13, 2001 Page: 27
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he future of medicine has already begun
at the University of North Texas Health
Science Center at Fort Worth. The emerging
field of tissue engineering - once the stuff
of science fiction and Star Trek episodes - is
taking shape in the center's Cardiovascular
To describe what tissue engineering is,
it may be helpful to say what it is not.
"It's a common misconception that tissue
engineering is the same as bioengineering,"
says Dan Dimitrijevich, Ph.D., director of
CRI's Laboratories of Human Cell and Tissue
Engineering. "Bioengineering involves the use
of manmade materials such as plastics and
metals in living systems. The artificial heart
is a bioengineered product. Tissue engineer-
ing is the construction of living tissue. It's
natural vs. manmade."
Unlike prostheses made of manmade
materials, engineered tissue becomes an
integrated part of the patient.
The growing field
The young but growing field of tissue
engineering is truly a multidisciplinary one,
with cell and molecular biologists, biomater-
al and robotics engineers, designers, imaging
Specialists, materials scientists and others
working together to develop materials that
an replace or support diseased or damaged
issues and restore or improve their function.
So exactly how does one engineer tissue?
"You take human tissue - skin, for
xample - and you dissociate it into its cel-
lular components," Dimitrijevich says. These
ellss are used to seed a "scaffold" made of
natural or synthetic materials such as colla-
gen or a biodegradable polymer. The scaf-
old is bathed with growth factors, causing
the cells to grow and adapt to produce
iree-dimensional tissue. When this engi-
eered tissue is implanted in the body, the
is assume their intended tissue functions,
I the body's own systems help it grow
and form new tissues. The scaffold is gradu-
ally absorbed while the new tissue blends in
with its environment.
"We've done it with skin and corneas,"
Dimitrijevich says, "and we're trying to do
it with blood vessels; several groups have
constructed cartilage." Other researchers
are working to develop strategies to repair
bone, muscle, intervertebral discs and
People with skin damaged by burns, can-
cer or diabetic ulcers are all potential benefi-
ciaries of tissue engineering.
"We started with skin because it's readily
available," Dimitrijevich says. Plastic surgery
is a major source. "But skin is a
tissue. The skin equivalent
developed so far is not as
close to skin as we would like:
no hair, no sweat glands. A
better target is the cornea,
because it's much simpler in
terms of cellular components."
says Dimitrijevich, is the cata-
lyst for the development of
blood vessel replacements.
"An artery is not just a
pipe," he says. "If you replace
it with a synthetic material, it
plugs up; it doesn't become a
living tissue. Even the most
elaborate materials fail under
the mechanical stress to which
we subject our biologically
The use of a blood vessel
taken from elsewhere in the
body to replace a diseased
vessel is also problematic.
"What if the obstruction is
the result of a general vascular
disease in the body?" Dimitri--
a very complex
jevich asks. "Perhaps the piece you're
installing will eventually be just as trouble-
some as the piece being replaced."
In addition, the vessels usually available
from the patient are veins, which are about
one-third the thickness of arteries.
"They're not high-pressure systems, so
they can't take the stress forever," Dimitrije-
vich says. "We need something else, and we
need more of it. Our concern is to try to
engineer an arterial-type tissue for replace-
ment in a situation like a coronary bypass."
Battling scar tissue
The prevention of adhesions is another
area in which Dimitrijevich and Health
Sci-fl becomes reality as scientists
produce new skin, corneas and more
by James Naples
Cells of human tissue are
used to seed a "scaffold,"
which is then bathed with
growth factors, causing the
cells to produce three-
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University of North Texas. ReSource, Volume 13, 2001, periodical, 2001; Denton, Texas. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc29774/m1/27/: accessed November 17, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting University Relations, Communications & Marketing department for UNT.