The aim of tissue engineering (TE) is to restore tissue and organ functions with minimal host rejection. TE is seen as a future solution to solve the crisis of donor organs for transplant, which faces a shortage expected only to increase in the future. In this innovation, a flexible and configurable scaffold has been conceived that mechanically stresses cells that are seeded on it, stimulating them to increased growth.

The influence of mechanical stress/ loading on cell growth has been observed on all forms of cells. For example, for cartilages, studies in animals, tissue explants, and engineered tissue scaffolds have all shown that cartilage cells (chondrocytes) modify their extracellular matrix in response to loading. The chondrocyte EMC production response to dynamics of the physical environment (in vivo cartilage development) illustrates a clear benefit (better growth) when stressed. It has been shown that static and dynamic compression regulates PRG4 biosynthesis by cartilage explants.

Mechanical tissue stimulation is beneficial and (flexible) scaffolds with movable components, which are able to induce mechanical stimulation, offer advantages over the fixed, rigid scaffold design. In addition to improved cell growth from physical/mechanical stimulation, additional benefits include the ability to increase in size while preserving shape, or changing shape.

By making scaffolds flexible, allowing relative movement between their components, adding sensing (e.g., for detecting responseofcellstodrugreleaseandto mechanical actions), building controls for drug release and movement, and building even simple algorithms for mapping sensing to action, these structures can actually be made into biocompatible and biodegradable robots. Treating them as robots is a perspective shift that may offer advantages in the design and exploitation of these structures of the future.

This work was done by Adrian Stoica of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. For more information, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

This invention is owned by NASA, and a patent application has been filed. Inquiries concerning nonexclusive or exclusive license for its commercial development should be addressed to the Patent Counsel, NASA Management Office–JPL. Refer to NPO-47142.