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Strain makes for stronger engineered tissues

ANN ARBOR---As scientists work to develop engineered tissues that someday may be used to replace diseased or damaged body parts, they face some daunting challenges. Even when tissues are successfully grown in the lab, the engineered tissues are not as strong as the ones that nature makes. But new research by a University of Michigan team suggests ways of enhancing the mechanical properties of engineered tissues. The work is described in the October issue of Nature Biotechnology.

By repeatedly applying strain while engineered tissues were developing, the researchers were able to increase both the expression of key structural protein genes and the organization of the cells making up the tissues. This, in turn, led to significant enhancement of the tissues' strength.

The approach was a logical one, explains David Mooney, associate professor of dentistry and engineering who directed the project. It has long been known that mechanical forces influence development of many natural tissues in the body---bone and cartilage, for example. Other research groups have shown that engineered smooth muscle responds to mechanical stimuli as well. But the U-M research provides a clearer understanding of exactly how mechanical stimulation leads to increased strength.

"The major contribution of this paper is that it demonstrates an interaction between the chemistry and the mechanics," Mooney explains. "It was not a great leap on our part to say that strain would alter the development of tissue. What was novel was that we were able to demonstrate that mechanical signals must come through certain molecules to which the cells attach. Both from a basic science perspective and as a potential application, that's very important."

The engineered smooth muscle tissue used in the experiment was created by seeding cells onto sponge-like "scaffolds" made of a biodegradable material. As the cells multiplied, they filled in the open spaces, eventually building their ow
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Contact: Nancy Ross-Flanigan
rossflan@umich.edu
734-647-1853
University of Michigan
20-Oct-1999


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