When trying to identify the beginnings of “tissue engineering” as a defined scientific field, the first major scientific meeting devoted to “tissue engineering” comes to mind. This meeting took place in 1988 at Granlibakken, Lake Tahoe, California. When looking through the proceedings of this meeting, one can see that many of the fundamental challenges of tissue engineering, still unresolved today, were articulated back at that time. As practiced today, the field of tissue engineering is based on a blending of engineering principles in the materials sciences with the principles of cell and tissue biology to create functional replacements for aged, traumadamaged, or diseased human tissues and organs.
The driving force behind the field of “tissue engineering” is the desire to replace defective human tissue with artificial substitutes to improve the quality of human life. This desire is not unique to our times but can be traced back several thousand years. The earliest reports of the use of artificial materials in wound healing are contained in the Edgar Smith papyrus. This historic document mentions the use of sutures and woundclosure devices around 4000 B.C. and the use of metals in bone repair around 2000 B.C. In ancient times, Native Americans apparently used silk and hair as suture materials.
In 1900 natural tissues like amnion and placenta were suggested as skin replacements, an approach that was obviously doomed to fail due to immunological reactions. The general lack of understanding of the immune response at the beginning of this century forced researchers and clinicians to abandon attempts to use natural tissues as medical implants and contributed to a focus on synthetic materials. Advances in metallurgy facilitated the introduction of metals for bone reconstruction and dental prosthesis, and the large number of casualties during World War I resulted in the establishment of stainless steel and other metals as the preferred orthopedic implant materials.