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Bioartificial Kidneys and Tissue Engineering: Cyborg Future?

Posted on February 2019

a scientist putting a substance into a dish

​UCSFs bioartificial kidney is an exciting breakthrough which circumvents the need for tissue-blood supply,using  cyborg-likesilicon chips. In thisarticlewe explore UCSF’s Kidney Project, the latest applications of tissue engineering, and the recruitment trends within the pharma and biotech fields.

We have previously discussed how the fields of tissue-engineeringand regenerative medicine are poised to yield market disruptions for biotech and pharma.

Recap: What is tissue engineering?

Tissue engineering is the synthesis of biological tissues — usually via a combination of a scaffold, stem cells, and growth factors. Like the field of gene therapy, tissue engineering has progressed from early debates overradical sciencetoviable and disruptive product lines.  

While regenerative medicine includes therapies to rejuvenate tissues, tissue-engineering seeks to replace tissues with de-novo implants that are either grown from the host or immune tolerant. A number of projects in recent years haveutilisedtissue engineering: 

In 2016 theLancet reportedthat a Swiss group had taken biopsies of subjects’ nasal cartilage, expanded them in a lab on an electrospun scaffold, then replanted them successfully into full-thickness articular defects in the cartilage of the same subject's knee.  This is a potential therapy for knee osteoarthritis.
In 2017scientists from Tokyo Universityreported on the use of implanted nasal cartilage grafts to treat facial defects in adults with cleft-palates. 
In 2018Science Translational Medicinereported on the use of implanted tissue-engineered spinal discs to treat advanced disc degeneration in rats. 

The field holds promise for any degenerative disease that impacts irreplaceable tissues, such ascardiac valves,peripheral nerves,spinal cord,amputated limbs, and much more. 

However, the problem with tissue engineered constructs and a major barrier to evolution in the field has turned out to be relatively simple.  Once any engineered tissue grows beyond a few cell layers, itrequires a nutrient supplyto support itself.  In biological tissues, blood vessels support living cells by bringing nutrients and eliminating wastes.  But when seeking to de-novo engineer a tissue from cartilage, liver, or kidney stem cells blood vessels are an extreme complication — to create them requires creating a second tissue,interspersed with the first, composed ofmultiple cell typesin layers, and highlycomplex to engineer.  

The blood vessel problem is a major barrier to innovation in the field of tissue engineering.  Here’s how one team is solving it...

The bioartificial kidney and blood vessels

Globally, between8-16%of people suffer from chronic kidney disease. The dialysis industry was estimated at$40 billionin 2018.  Kidney transplants are themost common organ donationworldwide, and there are greater than100,000 peoplewithend-stagerenal disease in the US waiting for a kidney transplant. 

Kidneys are composed of highly specialized cells that filter blood to formurine,and are essential for excreting wastes, balancing electrolytes, and maintaining healthy red blood cells. It’s now possible for these tissues can beengineered in the lab, andmany research groupshave made progress in this field. 

UCSF’s Kidney Project breakthrough 

One group, Dr. Shuvo Roy’smicroelectricalmechanical labat UCSF, has made an interesting breakthrough, which is relevant beyond just kidneys, to the entire field of tissue engineering.  

Many scientists have grown a functional tissue, then implanted it hoping it would vascularize. Or, havegrown blood vessels into a scaffold, then cultured functional cells in theprevascularizedstructure. Dr. Shuvo Roy’sKidney Projectsimply printed a silicon chip that carried nutrient supplies like a dialysis machine, then placed cells in the chip.  Rather than recreating complex biological tissues, they created a silicon chip that supported individual cells.  

This is essentially a simple concept, that stands to reverse all of tissue engineering. It’s possible that the best tissue-engineered grafts are not going to recreate biological architecture. On this basis, some believe that the implants of the future will becyborg composites, functional cells living in an artificial matrix. 

Impact of tissue engineering R&D on pharma and biotech recruitment

We believe biotech and pharma would be well served to integrate tissue-engineering R&D into their portfolios because the field is poised for breakthroughs, and those breakthroughs are likely to disrupt established clinical markets. Experts in this field are valuable, and recruitment in this industry is at an all-time high.

Operating as part of the Phaidon International group, EPM Scientific is a specialist staffing agency, wholly focused on permanent & freelance recruitment within the life sciences sector.  

We are designed to enhance the connection between enterprise project management and recruitment services in complex drug & device development endeavors like tissue-engineering and regenerative medicine therapies. 

At EPM Scientific, we think holistically. We recruit the best talent to ensure superior medicines are available to patients and we believe in the positive evolution of human health.  As we’ve shown with the example of Dr. Shuvo Roy’s research group and the bioartificial kidney, the right perspective, and the right talent can take a complex, unsolvable problem and circumvent it to unlock potential across many disciplines. 

The right candidate for the right team takes skill and timing.  If you’re a hiring manager in pharma or biotech looking to extend your team with tissue engineering capacities,  or you’re a consultant with this expertise wishing to move into industry.  I’m happy to help you find the right fit.  

Please feel free to reach out directly at


EPM Scientific is a leading specialist recruitment agency for the Life Sciences industry. We were founded in 2012 to give companies and candidates peace of mind that the recruitment process is in experts hands. Today, we provide contingency, retained search and project-based contract recruitment from our global hubs in London, Berlin, Switzerland, New York and Chicago.

We pride ourselves in keeping our professional network up-to-date with any changes that will shape the future of work or affect the hiring process. Visit our website to discover more invaluable insights, including exclusive research, salary guides and market trends.

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