Tissue engineering

Principle of tissue engineering

Tissue engineering is the use of a combination of cells, engineering and materials methods, and suitable biochemical and physico-chemical factors to improve or replace biological functions. While it was once categorized as a sub-field of biomaterials, having grown in scope and importance it can be considered as a field in its own right.

While most definitions of tissue engineering cover a broad range of applications, in practice the term is closely associated with applications that repair or replace portions of or whole tissues (i.e., bone, cartilage, blood vessels, bladder, skin, muscle etc.). Often, the tissues involved require certain mechanical and structural properties for proper functioning. The term has also been applied to efforts to perform specific biochemical functions using cells within an artificially-created support system (e.g. an artificial pancreas, or a bio artificial liver). The term regenerative medicine is often used synonymously with tissue engineering, although those involved in regenerative medicine place more emphasis on the use of stem cells or progenitor cells to produce tissues.


  • Overview 1
  • Examples 2
  • Cells as building blocks 3
    • Extraction 3.1
    • Types of cells 3.2
  • Scaffolds 4
    • Materials 4.1
    • Synthesis 4.2
  • Assembly methods 5
    • Self-assembly 5.1
    • Liquid-based template assembly 5.2
    • Additive manufacturing 5.3
    • Scaffolding 5.4
  • Tissue culture 6
    • Bioreactors 6.1
    • Long fiber generation 6.2
    • Bioartificial organs 6.3
  • See also 7
  • Notes 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10


Micro-mass cultures of C3H-10T1/2 cells at varied oxygen tensions stained with Alcian blue

A commonly applied definition of tissue engineering, as stated by [3] Tissue engineering has also been defined as "understanding the principles of tissue growth, and applying this to produce functional replacement tissue for clinical use."[4] A further description goes on to say that an "underlying supposition of tissue engineering is that the employment of natural biology of the system will allow for greater success in developing therapeutic strategies aimed at the replacement, repair, maintenance, and/or enhancement of tissue function."[4]

Powerful developments in the multidisciplinary field of tissue engineering have yielded a novel set of tissue replacement parts and implementation strategies. Scientific advances in biomaterials, stem cells, growth and differentiation factors, and biomimetic environments have created unique opportunities to fabricate tissues in the laboratory from combinations of engineered extracellular matrices ("scaffolds"), cells, and biologically active molecules. Among the major challenges now facing tissue engineering is the need for more complex functionality, as well as both functional and biomechanical stability in laboratory-grown tissues destined for transplantation. The continued success of tissue engineering, and the eventual development of true human replacement parts, will grow from the convergence of engineering and basic research advances in tissue, matrix, growth factor, stem cell, and developmental biology, as well as materials science and bio informatics.

In 2003, the NSF published a report entitled "The Emergence of Tissue Engineering as a Research Field", which gives a thorough description of the history of this field.[5]


Cells as building blocks

Stained cells in culture

Tissue engineering utilizes living cells as engineering materials. Examples include using living fibroblasts in skin replacement or repair, cartilage repaired with living chondrocytes, or other types of cells used in other ways.

Cells became available as engineering materials when scientists at Geron Corp. discovered how to extend telomeres in 1998, producing immortalized cell lines. Before this, laboratory cultures of healthy, noncancerous mammalian cells would only divide a fixed number of times, up to the Hayflick limit.


From fluid tissues such as blood, cells are extracted by bulk methods, usually centrifugation or apheresis. From solid tissues, extraction is more difficult. Usually the tissue is minced, and then digested with the enzymes trypsin or collagenase to remove the extracellular matrix that holds the cells. After that, the cells are free floating, and extracted using centrifugation or apheresis.
Digestion with trypsin is very dependent on temperature. Higher temperatures digest the matrix faster, but create more damage. Collagenase is less temperature dependent, and damages fewer cells, but takes longer and is a more expensive reagent.

Types of cells

Mouse embryonic stem cells

Cells are often categorized by their source:

  • Autologous cells are obtained from the same individual to which they will be reimplanted. Autologous cells have the fewest problems with rejection and pathogen transmission, however in some cases might not be available. For example in genetic disease suitable autologous cells are not available. Also very ill or elderly persons, as well as patients suffering from severe burns, may not have sufficient quantities of autologous cells to establish useful cell lines. Moreover since this category of cells needs to be harvested from the patient, there are also some concerns related to the necessity of performing such surgical operations that might lead to donor site infection or chronic pain. Autologous cells also must be cultured from samples before they can be used: this takes time, so autologous solutions may not be very quick. Recently there has been a trend towards the use of mesenchymal stem cells from bone marrow and fat. These cells can differentiate into a variety of tissue types, including bone, cartilage, fat, and nerve. A large number of cells can be easily and quickly isolated from fat, thus opening the potential for large numbers of cells to be quickly and easily obtained.
  • Allogeneic cells come from the body of a donor of the same species. While there are some ethical constraints to the use of human cells for in vitro studies, the employment of dermal fibroblasts from human foreskin has been demonstrated to be immunologically safe and thus a viable choice for tissue engineering of skin.
  • Xenogenic cells are these isolated from individuals of another species. In particular animal cells have been used quite extensively in experiments aimed at the construction of cardiovascular implants.
  • Syngenic or isogenic cells are isolated from genetically identical organisms, such as twins, clones, or highly inbred research animal models.
  • Primary cells are from an organism.
  • Secondary cells are from a cell bank.
  • Stem cells are undifferentiated cells with the ability to divide in culture and give rise to different forms of specialized cells. According to their source stem cells are divided into "adult" and "embryonic" stem cells, the first class being multipotent and the latter mostly pluripotent; some cells are totipotent, in the earliest stages of the embryo. While there is still a large ethical debate related with the use of embryonic stem cells, it is thought that another alternative source - induced stem cells may be useful for the repair of diseased or damaged tissues, or may be used to grow new organs.


Cells are often implanted or 'seeded' into an artificial structure capable of supporting three-dimensional tissue formation. These structures, typically called scaffolds, are often critical, both