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A Scientist's View on Tissue Engineering

written by: Rose Kivi • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 6/1/2011

Tissue engineering has the potential to change the way we deal with disease, injuries and old age. Growing new living tissue to replace diseased and damaged tissue could be commonplace in the future.

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    Scientists are excited about the emerging field of tissue engineering. Scientific advances have made tissue engineering a viable research field in the healthcare industry. Hope for the future of this emerging technology is high. Tissue engineering has the potential to change the way we deal with illness.

    The possibilities that tissue engineering could offer are endless. New living organs could be engineered. Hormone producing cells could be engineered and implanted into patients to create healthy organ function. Cosmetically, tissue engineering could change people's lives. New bone, skin and body parts could be grown to restore normal appearance and function. Degenerated muscle could be restored.

    Tissue engineering research is being conducted on almost every tissue of the body. The possibility of repairing and replacing any damaged or diseased tissue of the body is a high goal, but not necessarily a far-fetched one. There have been many advances in the field, but much more research is still needed.

    Tissue engineering is a complex and expensive field. Cells must be isolated that do not have any genetic defects and that have the capability to grow into the desired tissue. It must be understood how engineered tissue will react inside the patient. The body must create a blood supply to the implanted engineered tissue.

    Ethical issues are a source of concern among tissue research. The use of embryonic stem cells is a moral issue with some religious groups. Some scientists have found that an acceptable alternative to embryonic stem cells is the use of adult stem cells or stem cells obtained from umbilical cords. Stem cells obtained from umbilical cords are beneficial because they are immature and have not developed enough to cause an immunosuppressive response. Researchers are studying the flexibility of umbilical cord stem cells and their ability to be used for different types of tissue engineering. Umbilical cord stem cells are plentiful and do not pose ethical concerns because they are taken from umbilical cords after birth, when the infant no longer needs them.

    Another ethical issue is animal experimentation. The use of animal experimentation is a moral dilemma that scientists contend with. While tissue engineering has replaced animal experimentation in some areas of research, tissue engineering research predominately uses animal experimentation. Organizations like the Dr. Hadwen Trust and the Swedish Fund for Research Without Animal Experiments are promoting and funding alternative research methods. Human studies and computer modeling are two alternative methods of research.