BIG ADVANCES have been made in recent years toward growing replacement bone, skin, and cartilage tissue in the lab. One hurdle has been the difficulty in monitoring cells deep inside the tissue. ZhanfengCui, a researcher at England’s Oxford University, says sometimes the cells inside the scaffolding are unhealthy and not doing what they’re supposed to do. And sometimes they’re dead. That results in an”eggshell”effect, where the tissue scaffolding is fine on the outside, but is basically hollow. MRI machines can be used to check internal cell growth, but they’re costly, not readily available, and the resolutions they produce are not always clear. So Cui and his team developed a tiny, needlelike probe,constructed of a porous polymer membrane that can monitor the health of molecules inside the growing tissue, including large protein molecules, like polypeptides.The probe is a variation, he says, of microdialysis, a technique used by researchers to monitor animal brain cells to determine drug diffusion. The probe is filled with a fluid and mimics a blood vessel. Because it’s porous, it soon contains a representative sample of the tissue fluid’s molecules that can be extracted and analyzed. He’s patented the probe and hopes to soon license the technology. Cui is a chemical engineer who has been working in membrane technology and recently became interested in “enabling technologies for tissue engineering.”
Copyright American Society for Engineering Education Apr 2004
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