To build large organs that work properly, researchers need to find a way to lace them with blood vessels
INNER ANATOMY: An ingenious use of sugar molds coated with cells may allow investigators to replicate the sturdy internal vessels that are needed to carry oxygen deep within larger organs, such as the kidneys (shown here), and to remove wastes. Image: Bryan Christie
- The emerging field of regenerative medicine may one day revolutionize the treatment of heart disease and neurodegenerative disorders, solve the organ donor shortage problem, and completely restore damaged muscles, tendons and other tissues.
- The key, researchers are learning, is to give the body a kind of starter kit?made of various proteins, fibers or cells?or to clone extra copies of the semispecialized stem cells that are already found in adult patients and to allow the body to take over from there.
- The extra help allows the body to regrow tissues of the type or in the amount that it normally could not do by itself. Already such self-healing treatments have somewhat rejuvenated a few patients' ailing hearts and helped surgeons repair injured muscles.
The audiences at TED talks are used to being wowed as they learn about advances in technology. Even by TED standards, however, the 2011 presentation by Anthony Atala of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine was amazing. Unseen by the audience at first, various vials and nozzles hummed with mysterious activity behind Atala while he was on the stage. About two thirds of the way through the talk, a camera zoomed in on the device's internal armature and showed it weaving back and forth, depositing living cells grown in a laboratory culture layer by layer on a central platform, basing its activity on highly accurate three-dimensional digital renderings. The process, known as 3-D printing, resembles the operation of ink-jet printers but, in this case, instead of ink the printer uses a solution of living cells. In the end, Atala's machine produced, layer by layer, a life-size kidney made of human cells, much as a personal 3-D printer can spit out, say, a plastic replacement part for a coffeemaker.
This article was originally published with the title A Sweet Solution for Replacing Organs.