Some of you may be familiar with me, but I will take a guess that a larger amount of you are not. My name is Eric Cunningham. I have been involved with Foregen since 2014, but my activity had tapered off due to academic obligations. My goal to stay more involved over the coming years.
I hold a minor in Biology, a Bachelor's degree in Biomedical Engineering (with a specialization in Tissue Engineering), and am currently working on Master's of Chemical Engineering (with a focus on Biomedical & Tissue Engineering applications). In about a year and a half, I plan to start working on a Doctorate with a focus on Tissue Engineering & Regenerative Medicine (TERM). While my current work is not directly related to Foregen’s, I am still heavily involved in research (specifically regarding myocardial tissue).
I wanted to give you all a bit of my background before I delve into the real meat of my, surprisingly, first blog post. Those of you who actively follow Foregen, likely have a general idea of Foregen’s general approach. The approach goes something like this: a piece of donor tissue is decellularized. All that remains is a protein scaffolding, or what’s known as the Extracellular Matrix (ECM). A patient’s own cells are deposited, or seeded, onto the scaffold. The seeded scaffold is placed into an incubator, and after some period the whole complex matures into a finished tissue. This finished tissue can be implanted into the patient without the risk of rejection, since it’s made of the patient’s own cells.
While this is indeed the general idea, it is a vast oversimplification. I have on many occasions witnessed supporters and non-supporters alike, run with that oversimplified method and question or express dissatisfaction that research is not moving along at the pace that matches their expectations. There is clearly a great deal of interest to know more about the seemingly esoteric field of TERM. My intention with my future blogposts is to craft them essentially into a semi-regular series, where I discuss the science and engineering involved in engineering replacement tissues and organs in detail, while doing my absolute best to then simplify material for laymen. My hope is that this will help clear up the misconceptions that exist about my niche field.
How I Plan to Approach Things
I want to issue a disclaimer: Tissue Engineering is a multidisciplinary field. You will see me potentially pulling fundamentals from Biology, Biochemistry, Physics, Chemistry, Human Physiology, and engineering disciplines like Chemical and Mechanical Engineering (and on very rare occasions Electrical Engineering, which can arise, for example, in things such as mathematically modeling neuron activity, which I happen to have experience in). Since this is at the end of the day an engineering discipline, engineers like myself are also notorious for wanting to quantify and mathematically model phenomena, thus relatively advanced math is used frequently.
Here is what I plan to do: cover the raw material in all its convoluted glory. I will use governing equations when applicable, and I will use jargon and technical terms. I don’t want anyone thinking I’m cheating them out of the real deal. From there, I will do my best to explain things in simpler terms, focusing on key concepts and try not to get stuck in the details unless it’s warranted. If any mathematic or chemical equations are so fundamental to the concept that they need explaining, I will also try my best to put things into as simple terms as possible.
The first entry of the series, that I’m considering dubbing “A Crash Course in Tissue Engineering,” will hopefully be released around the time of the next newsletter. I plan to discuss the extracellular matrix and the decellularization of it: what is it, why is decellularization useful, and what is a biomaterial. I also wanted to outline my intended goals for this series and how I planned to achieve those goals, so you, the reader, will hopefully be able to get a better handle on how to take in the information most appropriate to you.
One final thing: this material can be quite dense at times and the entries themselves will likely be lengthy. Please, I recommend taking your time with these and not reading them all in one sitting. Try reading when you have time and can really digest the material as painlessly as possible. I want everyone who reads these to genuinely get something out of them.