Left: the silk mesh 1 day after being seeded with fibroblast cells. Right: 4 days after seeding.
What’s the News: People have long known that spider silk has many practical uses, even in the medical field; Ancient Greeks, for example, employed the strong, flexible fiber as bandages. But the clinical uses of spider silk may stretch beyond that: scientists may someday be able to use the silk to help create artificial skin, according to new research out of the Hannover Medical School in Germany. In the study, published recently in the journal PLoS One, researchers successfully grew tissue-like skin on a mesh frame of silk harvested from golden silk orb-weaver spiders.
What’s the News: While mice are a major tool for biomedical research, they’re not always useful for testing the toxicity of pharmaceutical drugs because their livers don’t react to drugs the same way that human livers do. But in a new study, published in the journal PNAS, scientists at MIT have gotten around this issue by implanting mice with miniature, humanized livers. Researchers may be able to use the artificial organs to help create drugs for diseases like hepatitis C, which mice don’t normally contract, and improve the development of other drugs. “In the near term, we envision using these mice alongside existing toxicology models to help make the drug development pipeline safer and more efficient,” said MIT biomedical engineer Alice Chen (via LiveScience).
The synthetic trachea, just before implantation
What’s the News: An African man’s new trachea is the world’s first synthetic organ to be transplanted. Made from a polymer scaffold coated with the patient’s own cells, the windpipe seems to be working out well, more than a month after the surgery.
Researchers have built miniature human livers in the lab, which could lead to better drug discovery and could even point the way toward implantable artificial organs. The mini-livers seem to act like human livers in the lab, but it remains to be seen how well they’ll survive and perform when transplanted into animals or, maybe one day, humans.
“We are excited about the possibilities this research represents, but must stress that we’re at an early stage and many technical hurdles must be overcome before it could benefit patients,” said Shay Soker, Ph.D., professor of regenerative medicine and project director. “Not only must we learn how to grow billions of liver cells at one time in order to engineer livers large enough for patients, but we must determine whether these organs are safe to use in patients.” [Press release].
The researchers at Wake Forest’s Institute for Regenerative Medicine created livers that weigh about 0.2 ounces each. That’s not nearly large enough to keep a human alive (it would need to be about 80 times larger for that), but getting the organ made was a feat in itself. The livers were made using the extracellular scaffolding from an animal liver, after all of the animal’s cells had been gently removed from it.