SC8: Tissue engineering beyond medical applications… What’s next?

Written by Gad Sabbatier, Ph.D (Chair), Ashley Clarke (Clerk), and Laura McKiel (Editor)

Tissue engineering principles were defined in 1993 by Langer and Vacanti with a great promise to produce laboratory-made organs, regenerate organs, or repair an organ function for everybody. In 2017, technologies developed with tissue engineering and regenerative medicine principles cure a small number of patients compared to the demand. Due to a long (and largely undefined) regulatory process and revamping standards to fit with this new market, companies work for decades between the proof of concept and the commercialization of a tissue engineered medical devices and spend millions of dollars of investments. In the meantime, academic scientists have gained a lot of expertise and knowledge towards refining this learning process and developing a wide range of principles, techniques, methods, materials, proof of concepts and possible applications in tissue engineering and regenerative medicine.

During this session, we imagined ourselves in a start up company trying to commercialize a tissue engineered product, developing short term products and considering the expertise required to finance longer-term products. Two focus questions included:

  • What else we can do with tissue engineering principles to avoid or decrease time of regulatory pathway?
  • What’s coming next to tissue engineering?


How tissue engineering and regenerative medicine can help the food industry

Cultured meat is the most popular example in the media for the past few years. It consists of highly proliferative progenitor cells that differentiate into myocytes. The first cultured beef burger was produced by Dr. Mark Post group from Maastricht University and eaten in London in 2013. Many start-up companies have since started to culture fish, chicken meat, duck or pork meat. Of course, cultured meat needs optimization and scale-up to decrease the cost, but is estimated to be commercialized in a decade at a reasonable price. Lab-grown meat solves many agricultural issues such as the large greenhouse gas emissions of farming and water needed for livestock. This application will potentially require lighter regulation processes compared to tissue engineered medical products, but to date this still remains unclear. Read more about this topic here.


Figure 1: An overview of the process of making tissue engineered meat. Source: Z. F. Bhat and H. Bhat. Journal of Stored Products and Postharvest Research, 2011, vol. 2, no. 1, pp. 1 – 10.



How tissue engineering and regenerative medicine can be used in the fashion and sports industries

Several researchers are trying to push the boundaries of the fashion industry by producing ivory, leather, silk, or fur using tissue engineering principles. These techniques can be employed to make ethical jewelry or luxury clothes that do not need to kill animals. Another project based on protocell technology envisions self-repairing personalized shoes that can react to pressure, heat, and topography (Figure 2).


Figure 2: Concept of protocell shoes. Source:


How tissue engineering and regenerative medicine can be applied to robotics

Many scientists are interested in bridging the gap between humans and robots by building bio-bots from living human tissues. Engineers from the University of Illinois made a walking robot with skeletal muscle cells on a 3D printed polymeric matrix that can be stimulated electrically to move (Figure 3).


Figure 3: The walking bio-bot. Source:

During the science club, we discussed the problem of fabricating a vascularized artificial skin for robots. Living skin on a robot would require the presence of blood vessels and artificial blood (blood/ biofluid supply system) with oxygen and nutrients, in addition to finding a means to distribute stem cells to replace apoptotic skin or blood cells. We also thought about a way to stimulate skin growing on orthopedics or exoskeletons by grafting peptides onto metal, to promote migration and adhesion of epithelial cells.


How tissue engineering and regenerative medicine can help the aerospace industry

Finally, we discussed how organs may evolve on Mars. Recently, NASA performed study to understand DNA changes due to durations in space. The DNA of twin astronauts Scott and Mark Kelly were compared after one brother had been in the International Space Station (ISS) for one year while the other stayed on earth. After the trip to space, the twins no longer had identical genetic code, proving that the environment in the ISS affects DNA. We imagined a series of experiments to study the development of organs in space or on Mars using stem or mature cells in a bioreactor that reproduces the Mars environmental conditions. Also, we wondered how non-Earth environments will affect the bodies and genetics of future generations of humans after colonization


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