Growing artificial organs has been easy—it’s figuring out a way to supply blood to them that’s the hard part. Scientists have been trying to make blood vessels the same way they created synthetic computer chips. But producing artificial channels this way can be costly and inefficient. Enter Texas A&M University researchers, who have figured out a way to use lightning bolts to create channels that look a lot like our circulatory system.
The Discovery Channel reports:
The artificial organs begin as clear blocks of biodegradable plastic about the size of an inch-thick stack of Post-It notes. An electron beam fills the block with electricity, then the scientists drive nails into either end of the plastic block.
While the pattern displayed in the plastic block is not even close to being an actual working blood vessel, it’s an impressive start. Someday, the researchers hope this plastic tunnel system can help grow implant cells that will mature into a fully-implantable organ.
Image: flickr/ adijr
The idea of growing tissue or an organ isn’t new, but scientists are getting ever closer: A scientist at MIT is creating a liver chip that can act like human liver tissue and react to medicines or toxins, while another group is manufacturing synthetic skin that can be used for testing. Some are trying to create human blood vessels and organs in a petri dish, or even grow organs inside other animals.
Everyone wants their tissue structure to be the one that can replace animals in the lab—now add University of Cardiff’s cell biologist Kelly BéruBé to that list. She can grow lung cells on small plastic spheres, and the cells function just like the insides of human lungs.
Scientists normally need around 200 rats to test the potentially toxic effects of inhaling a single dose of a chemical, and 3000 rats for chronic studies. But the need for lab rats might soon be eradicated if BéruBé’s new microlung can be used to test the safety of thousands of chemicals or drugs.
Waiting for a healthy organ is one thing—waiting for a “moral” one is another. Despite the long wait time for many people awaiting organ transplants, some patients in the U.K. are reportedly willing to turn a healthy organ away…if it comes from a criminal.
While it may seem absurd, around a third of transplant patients have reported that they “take on” the personality traits of the organ’s original owner after a transplant, according to cognitive neuroscientist Bruce Hood at the University of Bristol. Some people claimed that their memory got sharper, or that they picked up new math skills — which could be attributed to the fact that the surgery makes people feel better mentally and psychologically.
Hood conducted a study to see if healthy people would also care about an organ donor’s moral tendencies. He asked 20 students to pretend that they were going to need a “life-saving heart transplant,” then showed them pictures of the potential donors and told them that some were murderers. Those who saw criminals were more likely to say they’d refuse the organ.
If six-year-old Bethany Jordan plays outside too vigorously, her heart will start pounding—through her back.
Jordan suffers from Ivemark Syndrome, an extremely rare genetic disorder. What it means is that, if you flip around the textbook picture of the inside of a human body, you’d have her body. She has five small spleens, a backwards liver that will require a transplant, and a poorly-formed cardiovascular system, including a hole in her heart, which is located behind her lungs rather than in the front of her chest. Her stomach is also on her right side, rather than her left. In fact, her anatomy, is so unusual that people now call her the “Jigsaw Kid.”
The misplaced organs didn’t come as a complete surprise to Jordan’s parents, Lisa and Robert. When doctors at Birmingham’s Women’s Hospital were performing routine pregnancy scans, they thought the unborn child was missing a spleen and might have Down’s Syndrome. After further tests, they found that the baby’s brain was normal—but that was about the only thing that was.
Doctors and zombies find themselves on the opposite sides of most issues, so the world would be well advised to take notice of one question where they entirely agree: We need more organs.
More than a hundred thousand people are on the waiting list for organ donations, and 19 die each day because they can’t get an organ in time. Fortunately, scientists are working hard to find ways to create them—including growing them in the lab. Others are using polymers to help regenerate key tissues, and researchers have even tried growing organs in a healthy person’s body. Now, the latest buzz over organ generation comes from Japan, where scientists claim they have grown a spare chimpanzee pancreas in a sheep’s underbelly.
To grow the organ, Jichi Medical University’s Yutaka Hanazono used “sheep-based chimera organ technology,” a method that implanted chimp stem cells in a sheep to grow an extra pancreas. Hanazono claims this is a much better way to grow organs than trying to grow them in test tubes.
Scientists say it’s going to be a good 10 years or so before they will take human stem cells and grow human livers, hearts, pancreases and skin. For now, the extra pancreas could only really help out a diabetic chimp.
Image: flickr/ Alvaro Herreras