University of Houston researcher publishes textbook on tissue engineering

July 25, 2014

Ravi Birla, associate professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Houston, has written a new textbook on tissue engineering and artificial organ development.

"Introduction to Tissue Engineering: Applications and Challenges" offers a comprehensive guide to entering into the field of artificial organ development. Metin Akay, founding chair and professor of biomedical engineering at UH, served as a series editor on the book.

Birla said that while there are other published books on the subject of growing artificial organs and tissues, many are either out of date or serve as a collection of articles written by different researchers rather than as an instructional guide that students or individuals entering the field can follow. "These books are written by different authors, and you really can't use them for teaching," Birla said. "It's highly inconsistent in terms of who is saying what, and they're designed to be read by professionals who are already very familiar with the field of growing and engineering artificial organs."

Birla's book was written with undergraduate and early graduate students in mind, providing an accessible and easy-to-follow overview of how to synthesize artificial organs in a laboratory.

To simplify this field of research into a guide that's accessible to entry-level engineers, Birla broke down his tissue engineering process into eight steps. Although the book wasn't officially published until July, Birla used the draft manuscript to teach his undergraduate students at the university's Cullen College of Engineering last fall. "They found it easy to read, accessible, enjoyable," he said, adding that he will use the published version of the book as the official textbook for his class this fall.

He said the publication is timely.

"Other institutions in the U.S. and across the globe, particularly in Asia and Europe, are forming new academic departments which have a strong focus on artificial organ fabrication," Birla said. "As a result, there are many new classes being offered across the globe on the field of tissue engineering. This growth in the field has spawned a demand for textbooks that can be used for teaching students."

Before Birla began working on the book, he taught tissue engineering courses with PowerPoint presentations, which he put together by collecting articles on the subject, as well as by drawing from his years of laboratory experience.

Without a definitive textbook, he said the education students receive is inconsistent.

"The majority of professors are using articles [to teach], and it's very different from one institution to another. It's based on the experience of the individual instructor," Birla said.

In fact, the curriculum for artificial tissue engineering differs so much from one institution to the next that a standard definition of tissue engineering hasn't existed.

"If you look at what's happening, [the definition of] tissue engineering is so convoluted," Birla said. "One of the exercises we went through was to go through some of the prominent definitions, like the National Science Foundation's and the National Institutes of Health's definitions, as well as the definitions from some of the early researchers in the area.

"Based on that we came up with the commonalities of the definition and what the field involves. From that, I proposed a standard definition of tissue engineering." Birla said he hopes the definition provided in his textbook will become the new standard.

In addition to bringing uniformity to tissue engineering curriculums, Birla said he hopes his textbook will draw more students to the new field.

"My hope is that this textbook will introduce some young people to the field in a way that excites them, so we have many more talented engineers entering into this field and conducting new research," he said.
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University of Houston

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