The application of scaffolds to grow new tissues from isolated cells is the basis behind tissue engineering (TE); this month Materials Today looks at some of the exciting developments taking place in this field.

Tissue engineering was defined officially way back in 1988 at a science foundation workshop, at this time it was still seen as a subset of the wider burgeoning field of biomaterials. Now TE has very much matured in to a field of its very own.

Combining cells, engineering and a little bit of materials science has brought us to a stage where we are now regularly repairing and replacing large parts of tissue such as bone, cartilage, and some of our essential organs. I was talking with a colleague of mine only recently about the tremendous advances that have been made in creating scaffolds which provides the necessary support for cells to populate and grow.

Our paper by Fergal J. O’Brien looks at exactly this area. Entitled “Biomaterials and scaffolds for tissue engineering”, Fergal reviews the functional requirements of materials and the types of materials used in developing these scaffolds for tissue engineering and related applications.

Spider silk has long been studied and is now identified as one of our natural materials which shows unique physical and chemical properties. Its interest in tissue engineering applications is well studied and our paper from researchers at the University of Bayreuth in Germany takes an up to date look at some of the fascinating mechanical, physical and chemical properties of this important material, commenting on some of the rich and possibly life changing applications of this important biopolymer.

Some of the most fascinating observations in TE takes place at the interface – between layers, stong scaffolds can sometimes be too strong for purpose and here nature has created soft interlayers that impart new mechanical and physical properties on the scaffold. John W. C. Dunlop and his team at The Max Plank Institute of Colloids and Interfaces in Potsdam, Germany take us through a review of this area of research. Understanding their assembly and construction is the basis of our design and development of new and exciting biological materials.

A topic close to all our hearts is one of aging; Brian Derby and co-workers at The School of Materials at the University of Manchester tackle this subject in their paper “Characterizing the elastic properties of tissues”. The general ageing process and failure (often mechanical) of our bodies organs and tissues can have a profound effect on the longevity and quality of our lives, Brian and co-workers expand on some of the exciting developments in this field and look a little in to what the future may hold for our latter years.

We hope you enjoy the March issue of Materials Today and we look forward to hearing any comments you may have at

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DOI: 10.1016/S1369-7021(11)70042-6