Tissue & Cellular Engineering (TCE)

TCE researchers are engineering better health at the cutting edge of tissues and cells.

The TCE signature area grew out of both engineering and science. Several factors have converged to push tissue and cellular engineering into its signature area position at Purdue and push Purdue into a potential leadership position nationally and internationally:

  • The potential to help large numbers of people;
  • Growing interest among faculty members and students;
  • Opportunities for sponsored funding from federal agencies;
  • Clearly defined needs of industrial partners;
  • The geographic location of several partners in Indiana, which makes for a natural relationship;
  • The reputation of Purdue engineering and its recent success in biomedical research and development; and
  • The potential to increase the diversity of students and faculty in engineering.

SURF's Up: In the summer of 2003, Purdue Engineering hosted more than 40 undergraduates from various schools in the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships (SURF), sponsored by the National Science Foundation.

Here, Nicole Onyeneho, from the University of Maryland, dissects a canine eye to obtain retinal samples in Albena Ivanisevic's lab.

Purdue will focus on research and development in various subareas: real-time sensing and imaging of the structure, function, and dynamic characteristics of biological systems; probing and sensing the functions of and interactions between tissues, cells, and molecules; and engineering replacement tissue scaffolds with unique mechanical properties based on molecular design.

Tissue and cellular engineering is interdisciplinary by nature.

According to George Wodicka, head of biomedical engineering, the history of the field illustrates the necessity of combining expertise from both engineering and science.

In order to develop replacement tissues, the mechanical properties of those tissues are vitally important—how the properties change when the device is being constructed or once it has been implanted,” he explains. “These issues are critical in terms of functionality of a device itself, so mechanical engineering principles have been key to this field from the beginning.”

On the other hand, replacement tissues for nerves raise a different set of concerns. “In addition to the mechanical components,” Wodicka says, “the electrical properties of the replacement tissues need to be fully understood. That brings in the whole realm of electrical engineering.”

The science factor in the equation bears on issues such as tissue function, cellular interactions, and subcellular phenomena that affect how replacement tissues are recognized by the body and how cells react to them.

“At the molecular and cellular level we need tremendous engineering, yet the engineers also must understand the biological aspects of their work—especially about how the cells and tissues of the body react to the presence of an engineered tissue,” says Klod Kokini, a professor of biomedical engineering and mechanical engineering.

Tissue Mechanics: Alaina Pizzo, a Ph.D. student in mechanical engineering, studies the mechanical properties of tissues.

According to Kokini, tissue and cellular engineering has emerged as a distinct field in the context of treating and curing bodily damage and injuries. “Many of the key challenges are related to soft tissues, ligaments, skin, etcetera,” Kokini says. “Tissue engineering looks to allow repair of these structures. The concept at this time is to develop materials by understanding the environment they are in, the relationship between these materials with cells and tissues in the body itself, and to engineer devices and systems that can be used as replacements for tissues. We also look at the relationship between the materials and the cells, which is the critical part of making tissues.”

However, re-growing damaged knee cartilage for injured athletes or implanting retinal tissue for patients with macular degeneration may be just thetip of the iceberg of possibility. “Ultimately the hope is to actually grow organs or allow the body to grow organs,” Kokini says, although he concedes that such applications are years away.

The bottom line is that tissue and cellular engineering may benefit not only patients with previously incurable diseases or untreatable conditions, but also the businesses and industries trying to help them.