The reconstruction of soft tissue defects poses a challenge for plastic surgeons and tissue engineers. The construction of a biologically, functionally, and cosmetically successful replacement part will involve the combination of a composite that contains endoderm, mesoderm, and ectoderm. It will be active in immune surveillance and function. It must be durable to withstand the stress and strain encountered by the skin. Such a composite will involve the use of bone, cartilage, muscle, blood vessels, nerves, connective tissue, dermis, and epidermis. Fortunately, many of these tissues are among the best studied by tissue engineers. The future of this field will likely involve to some degree the co-mingling of current reconstructive modalities, including the techniques of prefabrication and pre-lamination, with more aggressive and successful tissue engineering technology and the rapidly developing science of stem cell biology. Tissues synthesized in vitro with better structure, color, and texture can be pre-laminated to a site that has already been prefabricated. Prefabrication of a bio-absorbable matrix can create a well perfused scaffold onto which larger subunits can be prelaminated. The future of this field of endeavor is exciting, and, with further research, experience, and interdisciplinary collaboration, bioengineered tissue constructs will become a reality.
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