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The Future of Tissue Engineering?

There’s a really interesting concept that humans could extend their lives indefinitely and like a car, as long as you can replace the parts, can continue working efficiently. At the end of the day, when you think about it, it’s the parts of the body that break down, not the body as a whole. So if you are able to regenerate tissue as the quality decreases over time, essentially people could live on much longer. So many organisms have the capacity to regenerate, a very common example being a geckos tail. Humans, don’t have this ability, however we have arguably an even better gift, our brains and intelligence.

Tissue engineering creates artificial tissue. Before starting, if you are to create artificial material for the body you must understand how the biological material functions. Artificial tissue are made from scaffolds which are the extracellular matrix. When you add cells to this, it then becomes a tissue.

We could potentially eliminate the need for people to wait on transplant lists. This would be revolutionary as masses of people die while waiting for an organ donor as the amounts of people on transplant lists vastly outweight the donors. If we could find a way do this cheaply and on a large scale, people lower income backgrounds/ countries could also benefit.

More importantly we could regrow organs that are tailored exactly to someones body; personalised medicine. As it would be made up of cells from the persons own body it could decrease chances of rejection. Bioprinting is how you would print organs using a 3D printer essentially. They use bioinks comprised of hydrogel, cells and chemicals. The process is usually extrusion bioprinting which when pushed through a round nozzle which has a diameter that is 400 micrometers. A computer guides the printer through its shape which is printed onto a flat surface or water bath. After this the structure will either stablize on its own or require something else such as UV light. Although cannot print complex organs like hearts, kidneys or livers yet due to gravity distorting the cells and the challenges with supplying all the cells with oxygen and nutrition, we can already print things that are flat or hollow such as glands and bladders.

There is also research being done into tissue engineering regeneration in humans, an example is at the University of Cambridge, they’re looking into having a patch made from stem cells that can return a heart back to normal function after a heart attack.

Even if it appears that we are a long way from being able to buy organs from shelves at a shop or a bandaid to heal the heart, the research being done into the field is promising and before we know it, people could very well live much longer lives.

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