The Pittsburgh Tissue Engineering Initiative (PTEI) has been awarded a 5-year, $1.25 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop a unique educational program focused on engaging middle school students, their teachers, and the general public in the wonders of tissue engineering and its applications. PTEI’s partners in the award include the Carnegie Science Center of Pittsburgh (CSC), ASSET (Achieving Student Success through Excellence in Teaching), and the University of Pittsburgh Learning Research and Development Center.
This project provides support for an inquiry-based, permanent, 1200-square-foot exhibit on Tissue Engineering/Regenerative Medicine at the Carnegie Science Center (CSC) in Pittsburgh, PA, as well as in four to five other science centers across the U.S. The exhibit primarily targets middle-school (6th-8th) grade students and their teachers and focuses on the theme, A Starfish Can Grow A New Arm, Why Can't I? The interactive exhibit aims to make visitors aware of the field and promise of tissue engineering as well as highlight the significant strides Pittsburgh-based researchers are making within the field in order that they may be exposed to cutting-edge research in their own backyard.
The exhibit will first introduce the concept of tissue engineering by exposing visitors to the innate ability of lower life forms to regenerate lost body parts (e.g., starfish arms, zebra fish hearts, salamander limbs and tails). Visitors will be shown basic scientific concepts related to evolution within various lower species and will then move on to mammals, primates and human, the highest levels of organisms, which because of evaluation have largely -- but, not entirely -- lost this ability. A major thrust of the exhibit will be responding to the "Why Can't I?" dilemma by demonstrating that through one of today's newest areas of biomedical science, tissue engineering, scientists and engineers are learning to tap into the hidden regenerative ability in humans. The underlying basics of the science and technology of tissue engineering will be provided along with an outlook for the future. Balanced with this will be a sensitive exploration of the ethical issues, myths, and misconceptions that currently surround the field.
Illustration: Pittsburgh Tissue Engineering Initiative.