Surgeons currently use common industrial materials inside the human body to replace damaged body parts. For example, hip implants are made from the same material as golf clubs, and vascular bypasses are often made from the same material as raincoats. However, if we want to replace more complicated body parts, such as heart tissue or the spinal cord, we need better materials!
In this class, we will explore how scientists and engineers are designing new materials to heal the body. We will discuss how cells (both those already in the body and transplanted stem cells) can "communicate" with these implanted materials. Using real-world examples, we will evaluate several materials that are being developed for tissue engineering and regenerative medicine therapies. Finally, as a class, we will identify an important disease or injury that requires a better material, research possible approaches to the problem, and debate several possible engineering solutions.
Sarah Heilshorn is a professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering with courtesy appointments in the Department of Bioengineering and the Department of Chemical Engineering. She combines these diverse fields to design new materials that mimic those found in our own bodies. As part of the Stanford Bio-X Program, Professor Heilshorn is studying how these materials can communicate with cells in order to heal damaged tissue. Specific applications that her laboratory is studying include heart, blood vessel, bone, intestinal, and spinal cord tissues.