Father of Tissue Engineering Says On Demand Organs Are Within Reach


PEORIA, Ill., March 11, 2019 — The man known as “The Father of Tissue Engineering,” Dr. Joseph Vacanti says medical science has come a long way since he and others showed through their widely-publicized “earmouse” experiment that tissue can be created outside the human body for transplant. The photo of a mutant mouse with what looks like an implanted ear under the skin was widely circulated on the internet in 1997. Vacanti says it was today’s version of “going viral.”

Dr. Vacanti was at Jump Trading Simulation and Education Center in Peoria Friday as the inaugural speaker for the Dr. Richard Pearl Lectureship series. His biggest message for University of Illinois College of Medicine Peoria (UICOMP) students and faculty as well as medical staff from OSF HealthCare and OSF Innovation leaders –”There is hope” for being able to solve some of the problems in reconstructive surgery and the shortage of viable organs for transplantation.  

As part of a team at Massachusetts General, the largest hospital-based research program in the United States, Vacanti began building viable tissues using living cells on specially designed degradable plastics. This invention is now patented and being tested worldwide. According to Vacanti, “The major problem in all areas of reconstructive surgery, including transplantation is insufficient tissue.” Another challenge, “It has always been about the blood supply,” he said. 

Dr. Vacanti said his team has reached several important milestones as they work toward creating vascular networks and eventually organs-on-demand. Vacanti said, “We believe that the most efficient road in regenerative medicine and tissue engineering is combining biology with technology.” However, he said working side-by-side, innovators are only limited by funding in how quickly they can create hips, knees, and organs grown outside of the body using a person’s own cells. Vacanti and his team’s research has overcome the moral and ethical barriers associated with this innovation because they have focused their work on only using an inidual’s cells.

Vacanti says the results of work at the Mass General Tissue Engineering and Organ Fabrication Lab he led in the past three years has been, “stunning.” He estimates the team is 18 months to two years away from testing a manufactured liver. As for a prediction of how long it will be until human implementation, Vacanti says he’s optimistic more funding will be coming from the federal National Institutes of Health and the Department of Defense as wartime injuries continue and from non-profit advocacy groups that are trying to speed up the clock on progress.

Human Application of Tissue Engineering to Date:

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Urinary structures



Blood vessels


While in Peoria, Dr. Vacanti also toured the Riverfront Museum’s “10 Medical Inventions That Changed the World” exhibit featuring OSF HealthCare innovations and participated in a panel discussion with Dr. Kesavadas from the University of Illinois Health Care Engineering Systems Center, Seshadri Guha CEO and Founder of CGN & Associates and Joseph Piccione, J.D. and Senior Vice President of Ethics at OSF HealthCare for 100+ area high school students.


Dr. Vacanti, the Director of the Laboratory for Tissue Engineering and Organ Fabrication at Massachusetts General Hospital Research Institute, began his work in the field of tissue engineering in 1985 and has served in a variety of roles over the years.

These include Chief of Pediatric Surgery and Surgeon-in-Chief at Massachusetts General Hospital for Children and the John Homans Professor of Surgery at Harvard Medical School.

Dr. Vacanti was recently elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences and serves as President of the American Pediatric Surgical Association.

Dr. Vacanti became a 2011 Thomson Reuters Citation Laureate in the field of physiology or medicine, an elite group often a precursor to nomination for The Nobel Prize. 


Dr. Richard Pearl dedicated 20 years of service to OSF HealthCare Children’s Hospital of Illinois as the Director of Pediatric Trauma and Surgeon-in-Chief at OSF Children’s Hospital and Director of the Pediatric Surgery Center.

He was also the Professor of Surgery and Pediatrics at the University of Illinois College of Medicine Peoria.

Dr. Pearl continues serving OSF HealthCare as the Director of Surgical Simulation for Jump Simulation where he organizes surgical simulation projects, coordinates American College of Surgeons accreditation and oversees the ACS Simulation Fellowship.

The Dr. Richard Pearl Lectureship Series was established to bring national and internationally known clinicians to speak to OSF HealthCare Mission Partners, students and the community on health care advancements throughout the world.

Jump Simulation, a part of OSF Innovation, is a collaboration between University of Illinois College of Medicine Peoria and OSF HealthCare. The center replicates a variety of patient care settings to ensure novice and seasoned clinicians can practice handling medical situations in a life-like environment. Boasting six floors and 168,000 square feet, the center is one of the largest of its kind and provides space for conferences, anatomic training, virtual reality and innovation. For more information, visit www.jumpsimulation.org.

OSF Innovation, a part of OSF HealthCare, launched in 2016 and is the overall umbrella initiative for the planning, structure, goals and services OSF uses to innovate for the improvement and transformation of health care. Our focus areas seek to advance simulation, better serve our most disadvantaged populations, empower elderly patients and their caregivers, and radically improve access to care. For more information, visit www.osfinnovation.org.

Contact: Colleen Reynolds| OSF HealthCare Media Relations Coordinator | (309) 825-7255 or colleen.reynolds@osfhealthcare.org


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