“Tissue engineering” uses implanted cells, scaffolds, DNA, protein, and/or protein fragments to replace or repair injured or diseased tissues and organs. Despite its early success, tissue engineers have faced challenges in repairing or replacing tissues that serve a predominantly biomechanical function. An evolving discipline called “functional tissue engineering” (FTE) seeks to address these challenges. In this paper, the authors present principles of functional tissue engineering that should be addressed when engineering repairs and replacements for load-bearing structures. First, in vivo stress/strain histories need to be measured for a variety of activities. These in vivo data provide mechanical thresholds that tissue repairs/replacements will likely encounter after surgery. Second, the mechanical properties of the native tissues must be established for subfailure and failure conditions. These “baseline data” provide parameters within the expected thresholds for different in vivo activities and beyond these levels if safety factors are to be incorporated. Third, a subset of these mechanical properties must be selected and prioritized. This subset is important, given that the mechanical properties of the designs are not expected to completely duplicate the properties of the native tissues. Fourth, standards must be set when evaluating the repairs/replacements after surgery so as to determine, “how good is good enough?” Some aspects of the repair outcome may be inferior, but other mechanical characteristics of the repairs and replacements might be suitable. New and improved methods must also be developed for assessing the function of engineered tissues. Fifth, the effects of physical factors on cellular activity must be determined in engineered tissues. Knowing these signals may shorten the iterations required to replace a tissue successfully and direct cellular activity and phenotype toward a desired end goal. Finally, to effect a better repair outcome, cell-matrix implants may benefit from being mechanically stimulated using in vitro “bioreactors” prior to implantation. Increasing evidence suggests that mechanical stress, as well as other physical factors, may significantly increase the biosynthetic activity of cells in bioartificial matrices. Incorporating each of these principles of functional tissue engineering should result in safer and more efficacious repairs and replacements for the surgeon and patient.
Biomechanics; Tissue Engineering; Gene Therapy; Biomaterials; Cellular Engineering