The research, which appears online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is notable not just because of the science ?researchers found they could coax bone cells into produce up to 75 times more calcium ?but also because the study was conducted by an undergraduate bioengineering senior, Néha Datta.
"These results are important, not just because they hold great promise for regenerating healthy bone but also because they may be applicable to other tissues," said researcher Antonios Mikos, the John W. Cox Professor of Bioengineering and Director of Rice's Center for Excellence in Tissue Engineering. "This is also a notable personal achievement for Néha, because PNAS is one of the top scientific journals in the country and because this is the third peer-reviewed paper ?and the second first-authored paper -- that she's produced in the past year."
Tissue engineering, also known as regenerative medicine, involves harvesting stem cells from a patient's body and using them to grow new tissues that can be transplanted back into the patient without risk of rejection. Most tissue engineering approaches involve three components: the harvested adult stem cells, growth factors that cause the stem cells to differentiate into the right kind of tissue cells ?like skin or bone ?and a porous scaffold, or template, that allows the tissue to grow into the correct shape.
"Finding the right combination of growth factors is always a challenge," Mikos said. "It's not unusual for adult stem cells to progress through a half-dozen or more stages of differentiation on their way to becoming the right tissue ?and any missed cue will derail the process. In most cases, engineers have