But in the real world, accomplishing such feats is more complex. Regenerating the jaw bone of a person undergoing radiation therapy for cancer means managing the constant bacteria bath of a human mouth as well as compensating for the damage of radiation.
"It's not just a question of whether we can make new tissue in a perfect condition. Now we're mimicking what can really happen in a person, and we don't know if the rules of regeneration might be totally different," said Paul Krebsbach, associate professor at the U-M School of Dentistry.
Krebsbach is scheduled to participate in a panel titled "Tissue Engineering for the Head and Neck," at the AAAS annual meeting Feb. 17-21 in Washington, D.C. The tissue engineering panel is slated for Feb. 20 1:45-3:15 p.m.
In the broadest sense, tissue engineering refers to growing human tissue through artificial means.
Typically it involves harvesting a small sample of cells, treating them in the lab, then reintroducing the cells into a damaged area, like a jaw bone damaged too badly to simply heal on its own. A tiny scaffold helps direct the engineered cells to the right place, then dissolves once the cells begin to generate to fill in the wound.
"In certain kinds of defects, the body cannot heal itself and the body needs a jumpstart," Krebsbach said. To heal a large wound, like that created when a cancerous tumor is removed from the jaw, that often means taking a bone graft from someplace like the hip. That approach has problems both for the wound at the donor site and for the site where it is implanted.
In addition to discussing the sometimes-messy real world applications of tissue engineering, Krebsbach plans to talk at AAAS about the potential for combining seemingly unrelated therapies to i
Contact: Colleen Newvine
University of Michigan