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White Glove holding sponge-like device

Biomedical Engineering

April 2002

by Will Sansom and Amanda Gallagher

An accident shatters the bone in a patientís leg, crushing it into small pieces. Doctors have difficulty patching it together with metal rods, pins and intricate operations. But what if they could insert a sponge-like device into the bone? As the device slowly dissolved, a new, healthy bone would grow in its place. The procedure was once beyond our wildest dreams. It is now within the grasp of scientists at the Health Science Center.

Biomedical engineers have invented and patented several forms of a 3D micro-scaffold. This complex net of bone mineral, collagen or plastic is infused with cells and serves as a new seed of life for tissue.

Depending on the cells used, the implant sprouts new blood vessels, tissue and joint cartilage. It can generate new arteries in heart attack patients, bone tissue in fracture patients, and perhaps even new teeth to replace dentures. Eventually, doctors may use the scaffold to regenerate major organs from a patientís own cells, effectively ending the twin quandaries of organ rejection and donor shortage.

The micro-scaffold will enable doctors to rebuild, instead of replace, parts of the human body. On the following pages, we explain what the scaffold is, how it is made, and how it will bring new life to heart patients. It is the first of The Missionís three-part series unveiling the marvels of biomedical engineering

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