Eugene Bell, 'father of tissue engineering,' dies at 88


Eugene Bell, a former MIT biology professor renowned for his pioneering work in the field of regenerative medicine, passed away on June 22. He was 88.

A memorial service will be held at the MIT Chapel on Nov. 19 at 12 noon.

Bell recently donated more than $1 million to MIT to establish the Eugene Bell Career Development Professorship of Tissue Engineering. Darrell J. Irvine, the inaugural holder of the professorship, said Bell came to be known as the "father of tissue engineering" as a result of a seminal study he published in the journal Science in 1981.

That study, which has been cited more than 400 times, demonstrated a way to repair skin wounds with artificial skin made from a person's or an animal's own cells.

"This basic demonstration became the basis for an entire generation of studies aimed at regenerating every type of tissue -- skin, cartilage, bone, nerve, liver, etc.," Irvine said. "It turns out that many tissues require different approaches and provide unique challenges, but the basic work done by Bell paved the way for what is now referred to as 'regenerative medicine.'"

Irvine noted that some of these attempts - based on strategies similar to Bell's - became commercial products. For example, certain commercial synthetic skin grafts are based on concepts similar to Bell's original design, he said.

Bell was born in New York and enlisted in the Army during World War Two. He saw combat action in the Philippines and in New Guinea and was wounded by a piece of shrapnel that stayed in his hand for the rest of his life.

He began his academic career at MIT in 1956 and became a professor of biology in 1967. While at MIT he laid the groundwork for the field of tissue engineering. Bell held more than 40 US and foreign patents and was the chief author of more than 200 scientific papers.

Bell retired from MIT in 1986, but went on to found two companies that made the technology he helped develop commercially available.

His wife, Millicent, said Bell never lost sight of his youthful ambition to make a positive contribution to the world.

"As a youth he was always someone wanting the world to be a good place. As one grows older sometimes one puts such thoughts aside - but he never did," she said in an interview.

In addition to his wife, Bell leaves a son, a daughter, and four grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 4 p.m. Aug. 19 at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole. A separate memorial service on the MIT campus is being planned; details will be released as they become available.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 19, 2007 (download PDF).


Topics: Bioengineering and biotechnology, Obituaries

Back to the top