Hinnovic » Tissue Engineering : A miraculous solution to organ shortages?

Tissue Engineering : A miraculous solution to organ shortages?

Tissue engineering Today, when someone needs a new heart, they have to wait until someone dies and can provide a heart for transplantation. But this can take years and years, and there is no guarantee that their body will accept the heart transplant. What if doctors could construct a new heart using a small number of cells from the body of the person with the defective heart?




This would not only substantially reduce the waiting time, but also eliminate any risk of organ rejection because the new heart would be made from the person’s own tissue. Is this just some futuristic dream? In fact, some researchers believe that such a procedure will be feasible in just 10 to 20 years thanks to tissue engineering. This new field combines life sciences and engineering, bringing together researchers in biomaterials, process engineering, biology and cellular engineering. Steps in tissue engineeringTissue engineering involves three steps: taking a tissue sample from the body, growing the cells from this sample into new tissue and then implanting the new tissue back into the body. It is a treatment based on replacing injured tissue with an artificially created tissue substitute. And it can dramatically improve patient quality of life because of its significant advantages over organ transplantation: fewer surgeries, no immunosuppressant treatment (as there is no rejection risk) and no waiting for an organ donor.


Applications of tissue engineering

This technology is currently being used to treat severely burned patients. A small sample of the patient’s healthy skin is harvested, then grown and transplanted to the burned areas. But while burn patients have been benefiting from this type of treatment for many years, improvements are still needed to make the transplanted skin identical to the original skin. Besides skin regeneration, researchers have been working on a variety of other applications for tissue engineering :


  • Orthopedic: Replacing/repairing cartilage, bone tissue and ligaments

Cartilage, bone tissue and ligaments
  • Vascular: Constructing the three different layers of the blood vessel wall

Blood vessels
  • Respiratory: Constructing bronchial structures

Bronchial structures
  • Ophthalmologic: Reconstructing the cornea

  • Constructing new organs, including the heart, liver and bladder

Constructing organs


While the aim of tissue engineering is generally clinical, it also has great experimental potential, being of particular interest to researchers in physiology, pathology and pharmacology. The organs created using this technology are very similar to the original tissues and so can be used to test drugs and other treatments without any risk to human health.

Issues related to tissue engineering


Ethical issuesClearly the clinical and experimental applications of tissue engineering are praiseworthy; but what about the ethics of this new technology? Advances in this field will indeed save lives and improve patient quality of life. But how is this technology to be integrated into a health care system already under great financial strain? Moreover, what would happen if a laboratory decided to use its research to pursue aims other than improving health? What regulations are being adopted by countries where tissue engineering research is already underway? In this topic of the month, you will discover some of the applications of tissue engineering and learn about some very promising results that are prolonging patient life expectancy. You will also be introduced to some of the ethical issues being debated.



What do you think? If we could regenerate organs like the heart or liver, should we systematically replace a person’s defective organ as soon as it shows signs of failing? Should tissue engineering be available to everyone or only to those who can afford the treatment? What should be the criteria for determining access to this technology?


Author : Pauline Boinot, M.Sc.


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