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45. Tissue Engineering - Nifty 50

Hands and petri dishes

The term "tissue engineering" was coined at an NSF-sponsored meeting in 1987.

At a later NSF-sponsored workshop, tissue engineering was defined as "...the application of principles and methods of engineering and life sciences toward fundamental understanding ...and development of biological substitutes to restore, maintain and improve [human] tissue functions."

This definition is intended to include procedures where the biological substitutes are cells or combinations of different cells that may be implanted on a scaffold such as natural collagen or as synthetic, biocompatible polymers to form a tissue.

Current uses

Two tissue engineering inventions are now in medical use. These include skin tissue replacement for ulcerations and a scaffold that allows the slow release of an anticancer agent to combat a form of brain cancer.

NSF-funded research efforts continue with the work for skin replacement, drug delivery and basic studies for understanding the cell-to-tissue process.

Tissue engineering includes the use of this technology for other medical applications, such as gene therapy, as well as the study of how cells interact and communicate.

A tissue-engineered liver, developed with support from NSF, is also under clinical evaluation. NSF's support of tissue engineering continues.

Future research

With tissue engineering now becoming a commercial venture, private industry has become heavily involved, especially with skin replacement, drug delivery and other potential applications.

Other federal government agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH), NIST, NASA, DARPA and the DOE now have active tissue engineering programs.

Original publication date: April 2000

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