It sounds like the stuff of science fiction: Scientists huddled over Petri dishes create living tissues to use in mind-boggling experiments.
But researchers are indeed capable of “growing” tissues — and their efforts could have a big impact on the future of seating and pressure-relief products.
“We take cells — which can be animal, but also from a human source — and stimulate them so these cells differentiate into tissues,” says Amit Gefen, Ph.D. “They develop into tissues, in this case muscle fibers, and we also promote the muscle fibers to be organized in an aligned manner so they will basically form a piece of muscle tissue. You culture the cells and in two weeks or so you have living muscle tissue that you can keep alive for two to three weeks. And you can treat it basically as you would treat an animal model. You can load it.”
Gefen notes the tissue is not identical to ours: “It’s not as complex as our muscles because it’s only made up of muscle cells. It doesn’t have fibrous tissues in it or connective tissues. It doesn’t have vasculature.”
But there are benefits to creating muscle cells that are solely muscle cells. “That’s actually an advantage. It’s almost like Legos: You build the tissue with the components that you want in it. If you don’t put in the filial endothelial cells that form blood vessels, then you have no vasculature in the construct, so there’s no ischemia. So you took the factor of ischemia out, and you can only look at the effect of direct deformation. And this is why this is such a powerful tool.”
Lab-grown cells enable researchers to study what they wouldn’t be able to if they were restricted to using traditional subjects.
“If you deform a tissue in a living animal or in a human body,” Gefen explains, “you create deformation damage, but you also occlude the vasculature, the lymph system… you don’t know really which.” Using engineered tissues, “You can really isolate factors, much like in the computational model.”