All tissues of the human body, including brain, heart, bone, skin, muscle, and cartilage, contain differentiated cells living in an extracellular matrix exquisitely designed by nature (Figure 4.1.1). These matrices contain nanofibers, microfibers, sheaths of material, mineral nanocrystals, proteins, and other biopolymers. The nanoscale architecture of these matrices is critical for the proper functioning of each tissue. Advances in cell biology and nanotechnology are expected to enable the fabrication of structurally and functionally designed synthetic matrices that will provide cells with all the necessary cues to regenerate structural tissues, organs, and body parts.
In one vision of this future, liquids will be delivered to parts of the body in noninvasive ways, and through self-assembly at the nanoscale, fully biodegradable matrices will form to serve as templates for regeneration. Nanoscale science and technology are needed to bring human capabilities to the scale at which nature designs the matrices for function. To make this happen, chemists, biologists, engineers, and physicists will have to work together to create the necessary strategies to synthesize matrices with nanosized features. The targets include the regeneration of spinal cord to reverse paralysis, and the regeneration of the retina to reverse blindness.