Engineering Tissue to Rebuild Damaged Bones and Organs

May 01, 2016

From the chimera in Greek mythology to the sphinx in ancient Egypt, humans have imagined making creatures from pieces of different organisms for millennia.

Tissue engineering, the innovative field that uses engineering principles to develop biological substitutes for cells or even major organs, is just the latest version, says Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic, the Mikati Foundation Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Medical Sciences.

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“From American Indians 3,000 years ago to the Renaissance in Italy, noses were repaired using human tissue parts,” she says. “Today, we are combining major advances in stem cell biology, bioengineering and clinical medicine to grow biological substitutes for our failing tissues.”

As director of Columbia’s Laboratory for Stem Cells and Tissue Engineering, Vunjak-Novakovic’s lab grows all sorts of human tissues, from beating heart patches to bone grafts that can match a patient’s original jaw.