Great leaps forward thanks to new methods

Self-healing powers like a superhero on the big screen? That’s the aim of regenerative medicine; at least in a very broad sense. This promising field of biomedicine is currently highly dynamic with innovative technologies and development. New methods are designed to help propel medicine into a whole new sphere.


Photo: pipette in petri dish  ©

In tissue engineering, tissue is produced in a petri dish. Here, transplants that are not rejected are created using the patient’s cells; ©

When we talk about regeneration in medicine, it refers to the ability to restore lost body functions to their original healthy state with the help of lab-grown tissues or the body’s own regenerative processes. Sounds a little like a superhero movie when a gunshot wound or cut heal on their own. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work this way in the real world. Although our body has this ability, it still needs longer than wounds on the movie screen take to regenerate and heal.

Scientists are hoping to improve the treatment of both rare and highly prevalent diseases with the help of regenerative medicine. Living cells are the driving force behind it. Combined with active ingredients and biomaterials, they are meant to assist in restoring impaired function in cells, tissue and organs. Stem cells provide the necessary supplies. They produce new cells for the tissue for the rest of its life.

Over the course of life, our body’s ability to regenerate gradually diminishes. Cells die. Organ functions start to diminish. Researchers are trying to counteract this. Yet organs also cause complications in other ways. Essentially they all have the ability to regenerate. However, this ability is more distinct with some organs, such as the liver or spinal cord for instance compared to the brain, heart or eyes. For years, scientists have studied different methods to advance regenerative medicine. takes a closer look at two of these methods during this month.
In tissue engineering, tissue is produced in a petri dish. Here, transplants that are not rejected are created using the patient’s cells. A natural or synthetic carrier material helps the cells to grow. Until now, the cultured tissue frequently very quickly died off after implantation into the body since the tissue lacked blood vessels. This is primarily the case in organs such as the liver, heart or lungs which are more complicated to recreate. They consist of different types of cells and branched arterial systems. Even though a company in San Diego was already successful in creating a mini-liver, it too died off within 40 days. To prevent this, Prof. Raymund Horch from the University Medical Center of Erlangen developed a method to have tissue make its own blood supply. In an interview with, he explained how this works.

One method that utilizes tissue engineering is electrospinning. An interaction between a polymer solution and a strong electrical field creates tiny polymer nanofibers. These are used to design artificial tissue structures though it is debatable whether they will exhibit similar stability as the original. Yet scientists were still able to make great progress over the past few years in this area. Tao Xu of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine in Winston-Salem (USA) for instance managed to create relatively robust cartilage tissue. With the help of a 3D printer, his team alternately printed polymer fibers and chondrocytes until the structure was stable. In contrast, the melt electrospinning writing technique is used to engineer soft tissue with the help of artificially-made polymer fibers. Small diameter fibers are needed to produce soft-tissue implants. Prof. Paul Dalton at the University of Würzburg managed to create a robust polymer fiber-hydrogel composite. In an interview with, he explains the characteristics of this composite material and elaborates on what makes the 3D printing process so unique.
The article was written by Kilian Spelleken and translated from German by Elena O'Meara.