Regenerative medicine is going to change the whole game of healing – but there’s a piece missing. Although life scientists can grow tissues which match the genetics of the user precisely, often that’s not enough. The human body also needs cells to be in the right shape, and held in the right position. Bridging the gap between cell creation and tissue deployment are engineers.
Dr Suwan Jayasinghe, of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, has developed technology which can direct a jet of cells with great precision. The cells are suspended in a liquid, loaded into a needle at high voltage, and squirted out so they pass through the middle of a ring connected to ground. The electric field between the needle and focusing ring shapes the jet into a very precise tool, which can be used to lay down cells in strategic formations.
To grow replacement organs for cutting-edge surgeries like the trachea transplant pioneered at UCL, scientists build a scaffold out of biocompatible material and grow cells tailor-made for the patient’s body over it. Until now, medics had to wait for the cells to migrate and grow throughout the structure – and they take as long as they take. But with precision aim, cells can be distributed all the way through the structure at the start, speeding up production and leading to implantation sooner.
Cells can also be used directly on or in the body. Using a system of needles within needles, Dr Jayasinghe produces hollow tubes of biocompatible polymer with a core of living cells. These fibres can bind a damaged site together and provide support while the cells inside develop – before dissolving to leave healthy, strong and brand new tissue.