Tissue engineers gather for Rice ‘short course’

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Tissue engineers gather for Rice ‘short course’

Rice News staff

Bioengineers from around the world gathered at Rice University this week for a showcase on tissue engineering, a field leaping forward in its ability to engineer parts for damaged bodies in ways that nature would — if it could.


Rice welcomed more than 100 participants to the four-day series of lectures offered by the 17th annual Advances in Tissue Engineering short course.

Organized by Antonios Mikos, Rice’s Louis Calder Professor in Bioengineering and professor in chemical and biomolecular engineering, the conference began Aug. 12 with what promised to be a highlight, a presentation by Yilin Cao, a professor of plastic surgery at Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine and a pioneer in research on the construction of bone, cartilage, tendon and skin tissues in large animal models.

In his talk, “From Bench to Bedside: Tissue Engineering Research and Its Clinical Application,” Cao described reconstructing tissue and cartilage through three-dimensional printing of polymer scaffolds, which can be seeded with cultured cartilage cells (chondrocytes) or stem cells and implanted into defects. There, the scaffolds hold steady while new tissue or cartilage cells infuse it. Eventually the new growth replaces the biodegradable scaffold, which simply dissolves.

Using a coral scaffold seeded with bone marrow stem cells, Cao  corrected a patient’s “thumb deficit” in what he called a typical   application of tissue engineering. The photo below was taken six months after the initial surgery.  

Cao has a measure of fame for growing a human-like ear on a scaffold implanted under the skin of a nude mouse — a variety that has neither hair nor an immune system. He won the James Barrett Brown Award from the American Association of Plastic Surgeons for the project undertaken by a team at Harvard and published in 1997. Pictures from the study of the mouse in question caused a stir among foes of genetic manipulation, though no genetic engineering was involved in the process.

At Rice this week, Cao built a case for the process by showing techniques used to fill defects in pig and cow joints, replace trachea in rabbits and ultimately construct new facial bone, cranial bone and even a partial thumb with an implant that combined bone marrow stem cells and coral.

Cao also discussed experiments using stem cells derived from adipose — or body fat — as seed cells for bone engineering. Using coral scaffolds, he succeeded in repairing a section of a dog’s skull, showing through X-ray, CAT scan and autopsy photos the concept’s potential.

Ten Rice scientists were among the 40 scheduled to speak at the event on such topics as computational structural biology, cell migration, engineering of heart valves, biomimetic strategies, pediatric cardiac tissue engineering and nanotech approaches to treatment.

“Advances in Tissue Engineering” is co-sponsored by Rice University’s Center for Excellence in Tissue Engineering, Cox Laboratory for Biomedical Engineering, the Institute of Biosciences and Bioengineering and the Department of Bioengineering. Other sponsors include Baxter Healthcare Corp., DSM Biomedical materials, LifeCell Corp., Organogenesis and SpineSmith L.P.

About Mike Williams

Mike Williams is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.