Newswise — Tissue engineering is a relatively new and growing area in the field of medicine. In recent years, tremendous strides have been made in the development of such things as skin grafts, heart valves and blood vessels. At the present time, these items are expensive to develop and take time to create. Now, a University of Missouri-Columbia researcher has developed a machine that will cut down on the time and cost of creating these tissues.

For more than two years, Mark Haidekker, assistant professor of biological engineering, has worked to create a device that examines the quality of the grafts and vessels that companies like Cytograft Tissue Engineering, who he currently is working with, develop. This will dramatically decrease the number of possible flaws in the tissues and vessels manufactured.

For example, the process of creating blood vessels involves removing a stamp-sized section of tissue from the patient's arm. The cells from the tissue are grown and expanded into a sheet of cells in culture, and then rolled into the vessel. Since the vessels are made on an individual basis, monitoring their growth is crucial. Structural similarity and adequate thickness must be ensured, and there can be no weaknesses or deformities. Haidekker's machine solves those problems.

The device, which involves a technique called optical transillumination tomography, examines the tissue using a laser beam and generates a 3D image of the tissue that can be analyzed on a computer. This allows Haidekker to test the tissue in a non-invasive way for thickness, structure similarity, density and possible defects.

Current methods of examining tissue are not very effective, time-consuming and too expensive to create, Haidekker said. While current devices take hours to create the 3D images to examine, his only takes a few minutes. In terms of price, an MRI machine costs $1.8 million to build and conduct the examinations, while Haidekker's machine can perform the same tissue examinations for only $15,000 in material costs.

"This is a quality control device that will save lives," Haidekker said. "This machine increases the success rate of the tissue-engineered items by picking out the rare, but crucial, flaws that may cause serious problems."