The term "tissue engineering" was officially coined at a National Science Foundation workshop in 1988 to mean "the application of principles and methods of engineering and life sciences toward fundamental understanding of structure-function relationships in normal and pathological mammalian tissues and the development of biological substitutes to restore, maintain or improve tissue function." Tissue engineering draws on experts from chemical engineering, materials science, surgery, genetics, and related disciplines from engineering and the life sciences.
Much of the current research in the field involves growing cells in three-dimensional structures instead of in laboratory dishes. For the most part, cells grown in a flat dish tend to behave as individual cells. But grow a cell culture in a three-dimensional structure, and the cells begin to behave as they would in a tissue or organ. Tissue engineers are testing different methods of growing tissue and organ cells in three-dimensional scaffolds that dissolve once the cells reach a certain mass. The hope is that these cell cultures will mature into fully functional tissues and organs.