Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Techy Tuesday - Tissue Engineering for Wound Repair

Continuing along a line of thought presented here a couple of weeks ago about 3D printed replacement body parts, I ended that piece with mention of tissue engineering, which I've been a fan of since first hearing of it 15 years ago:
I've been a major advocate of, and believer in tissue engineering since first hearing of this years ago.  We are currently bringing thousands of young men and women home from battle with missing limbs.  Wouldn't it be fantastic to build them a replacement instead of a prosthetic?  What could be a better way to improve their lives? Think of people who have virtually every other part of their body removed during cancer treatment: liver, kidney, pancreas, intestines, skin, breast, and bones.  Think of the people who tear up a knee or elbow, or develop arthritis, or who lose pieces of ears, or nose to skin cancer.  Wouldn't it be a massive improvement to grow new cartilage and restore full functionality?  How can medicine talk about "quality of life" and not go down this research pathway?
Recently, I came across the company ACell, which specializes in tissue engineering for wound treatment.  ACell manufactures products that are a tissue matrix, they use the trademark MatriStem, a scaffolding that the body regrows injured or missing tissues with.  Their website shows where their products have been used in "Extraordinary cases", such as necrotizing fasciitis (flesh eating bacteria infection) and other very large wounds. 
The way they tell their story:
Our core platform urinary bladder matrix (UBM) technology and MatriStem products are based on the influential work of our founder, the late Dr. Alan Spievack. Dr. Spievack’s research on extracellular matrix (ECM) constructs comprised of the epithelial basement membrane of the mammalian urinary bladder led to the invention of our UBM technology platform and the founding of ACell in 1999.

Inspired by salamanders that can grow back limbs, Dr. Spievack began working in cell regeneration in the 1950s and through his research he discovered a special characteristic of the basement membrane: remove it and a salamander’s tail (or limbs) would not regenerate. The basement membrane – a thin sheet of fibers that underlies the epithelium tissue of a cell and exists in every living cell in our bodies – was somehow responsible for constructive remodeling of tissue.
For decades, scientists had struggled to regrow skin to treat badly burned patients, cartilage for damaged joints, and other tissues.  The solution that appeared was to provide a matrix for the tissue to grow onto and the tissue will grow back.  Today, engineered cartilage is a commercial product, and grown organs, including an engineered portion of a trachea, functioning bladders and even functioning bioartificial livers have been developed.  If medical research is allowed to continue, not a certainty with government run healthcare, the future is very bright for this multidisciplinary field of medicine/engineering, and for patients.


  1. We are just now learning how to scaffold and grow simple single purpose structures. Extremities will be an order of magnitude harder as they comprise numerous tissue types PLUS must be structurally strong to bear weight and force from muscles. I suspect that we will perfect the simple structures soon but truly complex ones that include bone, muscle nerves and vessels with articulated joints will be a LONG time.

  2. Dan - you're absolutely right, of course. Not a reason not to keep researching it, because the answer may be simpler than we think. That membrane in the salamander limb seems to grow everything back, so maybe we need to find different substrates.

    As they say, "research is what you're doing when you don't know what you're doing".

    I'm sure it won't be in my lifetime, but that's fine. It should be done.