There are many types of work that make curious people sit up and ask, “What on earth is that all about?” — perhaps none moreso than “tissue engineering.” And although it may sound like some form of oragami, it’s not that at all.
So what, exactly, is tissue engineering?
Well … in the field of regenerative medicine, tissue engineering is often seen as the literal backbone of cellular proliferation and repair. It is the frame holding everything together, providing the support needed for other regenerative treatments to take place. While tissue engineering is similar to stem cell therapy and other regenerative treatments in that all aim to repair or replace tissue to facilitate a return to normal function, tissue engineering is focused on using more than just cells to do it. By including alternative biomaterials, scientists, doctors and engineers are able to create tissue substitutes that can encourage cellular renewal and growth and repair the effects of cellular aging, disease and injury.
With that in mind, here’s a brief overview of what you should know about regenerative medicine and tissue engineering:
Regenerative medicine is a broad term incorporating cellular therapy, immunotherapy, transplantation and tissue engineering, all of which seek to replace, repair or rejuvenate old, diseased and/or injured cells. A stem cell treatment for herniated discs, for example, is a type of cellular therapy that uses mesenchymal stem cells to repair spinal tissue and treat inflammation and pain. Indeed, many cellular therapies make use of different kinds of stem cells because they are adept at cell proliferation and have the potential to “transform” into many different kinds of cells.
However, other types of cells can also be used for cell therapies, such as certain immune cells or red blood cells. Immunotherapy is a type of cell therapy, as well, but in addition to transferring cells, it also transfers molecular material such as proteins, interleukins, interferons and monoclonal antibodies in order to repress “bad cells” in the body, such as cancer. It seeks not so much to repair the body, but to strengthen it against invaders, hence its immunotherapy name. Transplantation, the substitution of tissue within a body, is perhaps the original regenerative medicine. It was the first regenerative procedure to be used with much research continuing to improve its application and effects. Which leads us to tissue engineering!
What Is Tissue Engineering?
Tissue engineering is the synthesis of tissue using both natural and artificial substances.
It is similar to transplantation in that it aims to transplant tissue into a body, but in contrast to whole tissue and organ transplantation with living cells, tissue engineering also relies on the synthetic creation of tissue using alternative biomaterials such as scaffolds, growth factors and other biologically active compounds. Bone and skin grafts are two examples. Indeed, engineered tissue is often used to take the place of missing tissue in body (like when a broken bone or burn leaves a void in the surrounding tissue). There are many potential clinical applications for engineered tissue, but to date, only a small few have been FDA-approved for actual use.
Photo Credit: Gabe Rosiak