The term "tissue engineering" refers to methods that promote the regrowth of cells lost to trauma or disease. Tissue engineers use many methods, including the manipulation of artificial and natural materials that provide structure and biochemical instructions to young cells as they grow into specific kinds of tissue. These materials are called scaffolds because they provide support and materials for tissue regrowth in the same way that a scaffold supports workers and materials for a building under construction.
The ideal scaffold delivers just the right amount of support and chemical cues and is harmlessly broken down by the body as new tissue replaces it. The McGowan Institute is a pioneer in the development of scaffold materials, some of which are in clinical use worldwide.
Esophagus and Trachea Reconstruction
If a patient's food tube or airway is damaged, scar tissue can form, which makes breathing or swallowing impossible. Currently, there are no treatments for these conditions other than to remove the damaged areas. McGowan Institute researchers are working on a method that uses natural scaffolds seeded with the patient's own cells to encourage the growth of healthy tissue instead of scar tissue. In early studies, a damaged section of the food tube was replaced with a specially formed scaffold constructed from a material already being used in humans. Within 90 days, the scaffold was replaced with functional tissue.
Cells in the peripheral nervous system can regrow, but they sometimes have trouble linking up with each other, which is essential to restore feeling and function. To aid peripheral nerve regeneration, McGowan Institute researchers have developed scaffolds made of FDA-approved biodegradable polymers and protein beads. Channels in the scaffolds act as guides for axons, the long arms of nerve cells, to grow longer and in the right directions. In early studies, a nerve guide seeded with stem cells derived from fat restored some hind leg mobility to paralyzed rats.
A fluid derived from aloe vera has the potential to save the lives of patients with massive blood loss. In early tests, McGowan Institute researchers found that a very small amount of the fluid increased survival time and helped body tissues take up more oxygen, even when blood or other fluids were not administered.