A transplant may be needed if severe injury damages tissue [a group of similar cells] beyond repair. Tissue engineering is a new technique that aims to eliminate the need for transplantation by cultivating a replacement for lost cells. Fundamental to this is reproducing the basement membrane – the supportive bed where migrating cells take root and a tissue grows. Researchers tried using synthetic components but while they provided provided a place for cells to attach, the structural organisation required for managed growth was lacking. Here, a layer of cells (dyed blue) is growing on a sheet of a natural compound derived from silk. Added nano-scale contours provide a template for the structural proteins (red) that give cells, and the ensuing tissue, form. Silk proteins are not rejected by the immune system so could, perhaps, become wound dressings, that enhance healing by supporting new cell growth.
Written by Julie Webb
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