Tissue engineering and regenerative medicine (TERM) emerged as a new field in the early 20th century, first with the successful transplantation of bone, soft tissue, corneas, and skin, and followed by the transplantation of whole organs, including kidney, heart, and lung beginning in the 1950’s. Along with the rapid development of transplant medicine came a greater understanding of the fundamental mechanisms that govern cell, tissue, and organ development and function, and it is now possible to generate functional tissues and organs in the laboratory.
Despite significant advances over the last hundred years, tissue regeneration remains a complex and multi-factorial problem. Even the simplest scenario, such as a tissue void that occurs from a wound, necessitates interdependent processes to accomplish functional regeneration -- new cells are needed to populate the void, new structural elements and extracellular matrix (ECM) components are needed to support and functionalize the new cells, and proper structural and cellular connectivity must be established to allow for viable function. Moreover, all of this must take place within the context of inflammation, immune response, and scarring.
The regulation and control of cell proliferation, and the differentiation of newly generated cells, are key problems in tissue engineering. Studies in developmental and stem cell biology, among other fields, have identified the microenvironment (or niche) as a critical element in regulating cell proliferation and differentiation. Interactions among the proliferating/ differentiating cells and other components of this microenvironment are complex and depend upon bidirectional physical, mechanical, and biochemical signals, and these interactions are essential to maintain the proper balance between proliferation and differentiation.
To advance this field, we must understand the composition, regulation, and properties of the microenvironment, as well as its effect on regenerating cells. In addition, tools to control and manipulate the microenvironment must also be developed.
Finally, to achieve functional regeneration, the tissue must be correctly organized and all of the component parts must be properly connected including the physical, mechanical, and biochemical pathways within the microenvironment and neural re-innervation or re-mapping of extant neural connections. Without neural connectivity, a regenerated tissue cannot be integrated into the organism.
The TERM Constellation will pursue these research aims and will focus on three major physiological systems: cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, and the nervous systems, which complement existing research strengths at Rensselaer and are associated with cutting-edge research and new federal and state funding initiatives. Specifically, the following areas of opportunity and strategic growth in TERM: ECM, Stem Cells and Models and Tools for TERM. The Biomolecular Science of the ECM must be understood to regenerate tissue, with minimal immune response, through controlled release of drugs from synthetic, exogenous, or patient-derived ECM. Stem cells (embryonic, adult, induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS Cells)), and their biology and reprograming should go hand-in-hand with engineering of the ECM to assist tissue regeneration and remodeling due to loss or modification of cellular responses associated with disease and aging. Intrinsic and extrinsic tools (electrical, mechanical or chemical) must be developed/applied to visualize, control and generate a functional tissue that is properly connected and innervated. Appropriate in vivo models and access to human patients (available through our collaborations with Albany Medical College and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai) represent the final frontier of TERM. These models serve as a source for the ECM and stem cells, and provide fertile ground for ultimate clinical translation the to improve public health.
TERM Constellation hiring initiative
The TERM Constellation Search Committee is seeking up to four constellation hires that complement our existing strength in TERM to build connections between the other constellation faculty and cross-fertilize research initiatives across campus. Rensselaer has strength in areas of musculoskeletal, neural and cardiovascular engineering, biologics and molecular bioprocessing, Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases and stem cell bioengineering. Consequently, we envision that the TERM constellation faculty will work with this broad base of existing CBIS faculty to form their own "Centers within CBIS."