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News from the Department of Biological Sciences

Growing tissue

Research by biology and engineering students focuses on repairing human biological tissues

Students from many different majors take part in this research project

For nearly four years, students at Walla Walla University have been conducting research on the process of repairing biological tissues. Their end goal is to make a material or product that can be used in the human body to bridge gaps in tissue. It turns out, however, that there is more to growing tissues than simply caring for a few cells in a petri dish.

Janice Mckenzie, associate professor of biology, received a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering in 2006, making her a perfect research lead. She works closely with Ralph Stirling, WWU project engineer, and up to 20 students throughout the school year and each summer on a variety of bioengineering projects. The students involved are studying in a variety of areas, including biology, bioengineering, engineering, and chemistry.

“The basis of the project is that we make biomaterials to be implanted into the human body to grow, augment, or repair tissues that need it,” says Mckenzie. “For example, if there are large gaps in neural or bone tissue, the body won’t span that gap unless there is a bridge. We want to provide a bridge across that gap.”

“Developing equipment is a big process,” says Mckenzie. Most research to this point has focused on developing the tools needed to make the biomaterials—tools such as 3-D bioprinters, electrospinning machines, and bioreactors. This equipment is useful for creating and testing biomaterials that can mimic tissue structures within the body.

Along with the simple desire to conduct research about something interesting, other incentives of being involved in the project include paid internships and college credit. Engineering students are also frequently involved in developing equipment as part of work on their senior design project.

“We’re not just doing this because it’s fun and exciting. We’d really like to make something that would improve the field and become a product,” says Mckenzie. While this end goal is still far from being fully achieved, the progress made thus far is tangible and encouraging for the future of this research project.

Posted October 25, 2016

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Last update on March 7, 2018