Tissue engineering has been one of the most important fields in medicine which was introduced with the concept of applying engineering to the repair of biological tissue like ligaments, tendons, and corneal tissues. It follows the process of combining cells, engineering, improving and replacing biological cells.
One of its kind is the ‘hybrid-tissue engineering’ developed by Jeffrey Ruberti at the Northeastern University. The technique involves combining cow tissue with human tissue for surgical procedures like corneal transplants. These transplants can restore vision, reduce pain, and improve the appearance of a damaged or diseased cornea. The University’s efforts of this development were rewarded with good financial support by the National Institutes of Health.
According to Ruberti, it is essential to develop methods to produce corneas that are suitable for transplant. There is an increase in the requirement of corneal transplants to save our vision from diseases like Keratoconus (thinning of the cornea).
The collagen which forms the cornea is an organised and structurally uniform tissue in the human body. The researchers, therefore, try to replicate this natural organisation of collagen from the skin of the cow. With the help of this tissue, they can make the corneal tissue in the lab. However, it is only in specific environmental conditions that the collage of the cow can be manipulated and formed into a template. After this, the human corneal cells are combined with the template. Ruberti says,
“In the right environment, it seems that collagen has the ability to reshape itself with minimal guidance”
This method of engineering can also be used and tested for the treatment of various tissue damages including the damage of ligaments and tendons. The importance of collagen molecules is highlighted here, where, if they are provided with appropriate conditions, they can essentially cure many diseases.