Repairing damaged or diseased tissues or organs to prevent failure using natural or bioengineered materials, is the essence of regenerative medicine. Technologies can involve the use of stem cells, gene therapy, tissue engineering, and the use of artificial organs. To date, researchers have been recreating a range of tissues and organs in vitro, with varying degrees of success. The tools to create scaffolds and structures are limited, and fine control over mechanical and environmental variables is complex. Also, there is a limited means of diagnosing at the molecular, cellular, and tissue levels what is actually happening within the constructs. In this review, we focus on efforts employed to build in vitro models of the nervous system, in particular, the peripheral nervous system and the related visual system. We examine the development of novel biomaterials that serve as the building blocks for the fabrication of scaffolds in engineered tissues.
Scaffolds must be fabricated from biologically compatible materials to be used as cellular supports for an engineered tissue or organ. Cells must be able to proliferate and differentiate into the appropriate target tissue or organ, when a chosen 3D scaffold is used. Engineered tissues need to mimic morphological, physiological and biochemical properties of the natural tissue as closely as possible. Thus, construction requirements are rigorous and demanding. The cornea and peripheral nervous system (PNS) are currently experiencing advances in tissue engineering efforts, for both transplantation and in vitro testing.