Last week, Nature dedicated an technology editorial to new advances in tissue engineering, more specifically the “organs-grown-in-a-lab” sub-field. Titled Tissue engineering: Organs from the lab, the article proclaimed, “Engineered tissues are starting to allow incisive experiments and even replacement therapies,” before concluding that new discoveries and advancements in tissue engineering not only offer a “better understanding of the basis of disease” but also a real potential to “cure those diseases.”
This comes on the heels of some remarkable new developments. MIT associate professor of mechanical engineering Xuanhe Zhao and colleagues at MIT, Duke University, and Columbia University described, in the journal Advanced Materials, the development of new hydrogels that are not only tough, but soft and “stretchable,” which can be assembled with approaches that do not require harsh chemicals. Not only that, but the hydrogels can be assembled into a variety of 3D structures by 3D printing, which opens up possibilities of their use as cell delivery carriers as well as scaffolds for expansion of stem cells. Indeed, the new materials are benign enough to synthesize together with living cells, such as stem cells. The authors are currently focused on improving the resolution of the printer, which is currently limited to details about 500 micrometers in size.
This comes in addition to a new paper, published in Nature Materials, from Dr. Dino di Carlo’s lab at UCLA, which describes a new injectable polymer gel for the rapid treatment of wounds.
The gel uses a cluster of microscopic synthetic polymer spheres, which produces MAP (microporous annealed particles) gel, which fills the wound and facilitates the growth of new tissue. Eventually the body degrades the spheres, leaving just the newly grown tissue. Cells are encouraged to migrate into the microporous gel and proliferate, and in doing so, encourage the assembly of new tissue.
New biomaterials will be they key to achieving biocompatible and effective tissue replacement and regeneration, and advances such as these are at the forefront of systems development toward effective biomedical therapies in regenerative medicine.