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Tissue Engineering



In college, I plan to major in biomedical engineering. Biomedical engineering combines biology, chemistry, physics, and math into one field of study. The field is very broad; so a biomedical engineer usually focuses on one specialization, some of which include medical imaging, biomechanics, bioinstrumentation, genomics, robotics, clinical engineering, tissue engineering... I am not sure which specialization I will follow yet; however, I think that tissue engineering is extremely fascinating. Tissue engineers are constantly finding new ways to grow skin, bones, cartilage, and even organs. The theory behind tissue engineering and regenerative medicine is that an organ made by a patient's own cells should be easily received by the patient's body. With typical transplants (transplanting an organ from human to human or animal to human), there is always risk of rejection. As strides are made in the field of tissue engineering, the results are promising. If tissue engineers can streamline the process of growing organs, people would not have to wait on transplant lists and pray for a suitable organ to turn up.

The process of "growing" organs involves many steps. One of the first steps is called electrospinning. In this process, positively charged nanofibers are transferred from a syringe which is positively charged to a spinning cylinder which has a negatively charged plate behind it (physics :)) . The nanofibers travel along the electric field lines, and accumulate evenly on the spinning cylinder. After enough fibers have accumulated, the engineer stops the machine. The deposited fiber is removed from the tube; and a thin sheet is end product. The engineer uses the thin polymer to construct a scaffold. Cells are placed on the scaffold which multiply, differentiate, etc. to form the intended organ. The scaffold provides a structure for the cells to form around. Once in the body, the organ slowly develops around the scaffold. Due to the composition of the scaffold, it slowly is absorbed by the body over time, leaving just the organ in place. Ta-daa! An organ has just been made!

This is a glimpse at one step in the long process of creating an organ. Many chemical and biological steps come next, but this is physics so I will stop here.

All in all, three cheers for E-fields which allow super thin nanofiber sheets to form!


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