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Festival of science Wednesday, 6 September, 2000, 14:56 GMT 15:56 UK
UK tissue engineering centre to get 10m
By BBC News Online's Jonathan Amos

A tissue engineering centre is being set up in the UK with a 10m grant from the government.

Scientists hope to learn how to persuade the body to regenerate tissues and even whole organs that have failed through disease or old age.

The centre, to be known as the Interdisciplinary Research Collaboration in Tissue Engineering, will be based at the universities of Liverpool and Manchester.

Professor David Williams
Professor David Williams says the UK lags behind the US in many areas
David Williams, a professor of clinical engineering at Liverpool, said the centre would probably start with replacement arteries but would work on progressively more complex tissues as their expertise grew.

Scaffold tube

He said he hoped to see the artery technology in patients within four or five years.

"We aim to have a synthetic tubular structure made from a natural biopolymer which would act as a scaffold around which the patient's own muscle cells, the patient's own endothelial cells, under the appropriate stimulus, would enable those cells to regenerate in the form of that tube."

He said the scaffold, being biodegradable, would "melt away" after the regenerated artery was in place.

Professor Williams said efforts would also be made to regenerate cartilage, nerve tissue and muscle.

Mechanical pump

"When we look at whole organs, probably the heart will be there first before any of the others because it is essentially mechanical. Organs such as the liver and pancreas are longer in the future because of the more complex functions they have to perform."

Professor Williams said he thought engineered hearts could be with us within 15 years.

The new centre will combine the cell and molecular biology expertise at Manchester with the medical engineering and biomaterials expertise at Liverpool.

Professor Williams said the UK was at least five years behind the Americans in several areas of tissue engineering, where items such as bladders were already being grown inside animals on an experimental basis.

New materials

He said great strides had been made in the last century to design a wide variety of synthetic, implantable materials and devices, including artificial joints, heart valves and corrective lenses for the eyes.

But he said the technology was limited, partly because of the difficulty of getting the body to accept synthetic materials but also because those materials tended to degrade quickly in the "hostile environment of the body".

Professor Williams said the new science was essentially about "self-healing", delivering the necessary cells, molecular signals and scaffolds to sites in the body needing repair so that body itself could regenerate the tissues required.

He said that tissue engineering was not intended primarily to extend life but to improve the quality of life in the later years.

"That's why in the majority of circumstances we are looking at tissues that, when they fail, compromise the quality of life. We're talking about helping patients like those who can't walk properly because of osteoarthritis or suffer from congestive heart failure. We want to build structures that will help these sort of people."

Professor David Williams
"We will be able to persuade bodies to repair themselves"
See also:

12 Oct 99 | Sheffield 99
22 Feb 00 | Washington 2000
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