Ultimate Guide To Tissue Engineering Master’s

I am pursuing a Common European Joint Master’s Degree in Biomedical Engineering with specialization in Tissue Engineering at RWTH Aachen Germany and Trinity College Dublin. Transitioning from Mechanical Engineering to Tissue Engineering has not been an easy ride for me, but it was something I had anticipated before delving into it.

When I was a Bachelor’s student in Mechanical Engineering at Indian Institute of Technology, I didn’t have much insight into ‘Tissue Engineering’. Despite being from a premier university in India with a specialized department in Biomedical Engineering, I had limited first-hand access to suggestions to manoeuver my career choice. Every time, I talked to professors in India about my areas of interest, I had to resort to speaking on the superset of the field, like Microfluidics or Biomaterials. That was a vague way of seeking advice. So, I decided to jot down.

What is ‘Tissue Engineering’ For Me?

From the perspective of popular science, I would say it’s is an engineering discipline to replace or improve the pathological (diseased) tissues of the body. Now, you can either design an entire tissue like heart and lungs in the lab and then implant in the body or you can develop methods to improve the tissue function.The term ‘tissue engineering’ was officially coined at a National Science Foundation workshop in 1988. It means ‘the application of engineering, materials methods, life sciences principles like biochemistry and physiology’ to develop tissue substitutes or improve tissue function. ‘Regenerative Medicine’ is often used alternatively for ‘Tissue Engineering’, although there is a very thin line of difference. 

So, now that you have heard of artificial hearts, the question is how do you design an artificial heart?

How do you design an artificial heart?

For designing the heart, you need to understand how it works, i.e. it’s physiology. Physiology helps you understand the rate of heartbeat, the blood volume in the heart in one minute, the pressure of blood in the heart and several such parameters.

However, before understanding the physiology, you need to know the anatomy of the heart, say how many valves or how many chambers are there in the heart.

Now that you understand the structure and function of the human heart, you need to know the material properties of the heart. There are several ways in which you can evaluate the material properties of the myocardium (heart muscle) like the storage modulus, the loss modulus, the rigidity, the contractile forces acting etc.

In order to grow the heart tissue in the lab, you need to know the concepts of cell culture and handling biochemical assays. Cell culture has several challenges like finding the right medium to grow the cells. Hydrogels are typically used in cell culture. You can read more about the hydrogels in cell culture later.

These days, there is extensive research in finding the optimum hydrogel to grow a variety of cells. That’s when your knowledge of biochemistry, polymer chemistry and rheology comes into effect. Several research groups are also exploring other biomaterials for cell culture. You may find this interesting:

Biomaterials in Tissue Engineering

What subjects are crucial for being a Tissue Engineer?

From the example of designing an artificial heart, you would have got an idea that you need extensive knowledge of various scientific and technical areas. Tissue Engineering is an interdisciplinary field and no major in the undergraduate perfectly teaches you to be a ‘Tissue Engineer’. Trinity College Dublin offers a Tissue Engineering specialization in the Postgraduate.  

However, the best option is to curate your Bachelor’s degree with the right set of electives. Since I am specializing in this area, here are a few courses you would find useful in ‘tissue engineering’.

  • Polymer Chemistry
  • Biomaterials
  • Fluid Mechanics and Microfluidics
  • Physiology
  • Anatomy
  • Biochemistry
  • Cell Biology/Mechanobiology
  • Nanotechnology and Nanomaterials
  • Bioinstrumentation, Electronics Engineering (Optional)

What Major should you choose to become a ‘Tissue Engineer’?

  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Materials Science
  • Chemical Engineering
  • Chemistry (Industrial, Applied, Polymer)
  • Life Science
  • Biophysics
  • Electrical/ Electronics Engineering
  • Biomedical Engineering/ Bioengineering
  • Biology 

In my class of 16 students at RWTH Aachen, there are students from biology, electrical engineering, biomedical engineering and even as far stretched as veterinary medicine. I am the only one from Mechanical Engineering. I have met guys from Electrical Engineering who started working on the nerve impulses in patients with Parkinson’s disease and later went on to work in the ‘nerve tissue regeneration’ research. You can read an IEEE paper later that shows the application of Electrical Engineering in Cardiac Tissue Engineering

However, electrical engineering guys specializing in tissue engineering is rare. It makes much more sense for chemical and mechanical engineering graduates to enter this area due to few areas of overlap. If you are in a traditional engineering discipline like Mechanical Engineering, taking electives like biomaterials, biofluidics, polymer chemistry, cell biology and ‘biochemistry’ would be helpful. Although a biomedical engineering undergraduate major usually encompasses these courses, it may miss out on fluid mechanics, engineering mechanics, and polymer chemistry. 

Currently, I am working on ‘3D Bioprinting of Tissues’ and material characterization of various hydrogels. Bioprinting involves bioinks.  If you are curious about how I am applying the concepts of mechanical engineering, you can check my blog post.”How I Applied Mechanical Engineering principles in Tissue Engineering?”

I hope that this article gives you a broad perspective of ‘Tissue Engineering’ and how to advance in this field. Feel free to shoot your queries as comments and shower some love and appreciation by sharing this article.


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