The sky is the limit for bioengineering
A giant outer space laboratory serves as a body shop in the most literal sense. Scientists and engineers string together metal, cells and artificial tissue, creating new bones, cartilage and arteries for humans here on earth.
It's a space-age concept, but it's not a fantasy. "This is scientific exploration attempting to take medicine to the next level," said Dr. Mauli Agrawal, director of the Center for Clinical Bioengineering.
NASA recently selected Dr. Agrawal to speak at the annual meeting of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. "NASA is trying to expand its scope," Dr. Agrawal said. "We have a space station we can use to study medicine, as well as the planets and the stars."
Dr. Agrawal's lecture, "Biomaterials and Tissue Engineering — A Role for Microgravity?" addressed the possibility of regenerating human components, such as tissue and joints, in outer space.
"There are so many things we don't really know about microgravity, or a lack of gravity, that we haven't really thought about applications in the scheme of medicine," Dr. Agrawal said. "Mechanical and biomedical engineers often share the same scientific heritage and mother tongue, but we speak different dialects. This program is an opportunity for cross-fertilization between the two fields."
Dr. Agrawal also spoke at NATO'S Advanced Sciences Institute conference on biomaterials and tissue engineering last November. Representatives from 20 NATO and NATO-related countries attended the seminar. Dr. Agrawal was one of only three lecturers from the United States invited to speak.