Shows: 11.10.08

Monday mornings I'm on the air sharing more stories about how people are living better through computers. I'll tuck field notes from those shows right here. You'll also be able to dig into the archives to explore previous shows as I determine how best to share some of the highlights of the past 9 year's worth of adventures.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Use an Inkjet Printer to Print Yourself a New Heart

Two years ago scientists at Carnegie Mellon unveiled a "Bio-Ink Printer" capable of transforming stem cells into muscle and bone. This fall the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest University in North Carolina put those same printers to work creating human tissue capable of generating healthy new organs and body parts.

Seems a little like something out of Iron Man or Star Trek? The truth is that this melding of man and machine is now more science fact than science fiction.

Researchers have successfully used the cartridge of an inkjet printer, and instead of filling it with ink, filled it with biological stem cells to regrow tissues and organs. They hope to use the technology to heal babies with abnormalities detected before birth, and ultimately the population at large. Stem cells taken from an unborn baby's amniotic fluid and placenta can be used to create a "bio ink" for that same child, with the ability to convert those cells into specific tissue, such as liver or kidney tissue, for regeneration after the baby is born. Using an inkjet printer this is then sprayed onto a 3-dimensional model, which serves as the foundation of new liver or kidney tissue, for example, or perhaps regenerating a replacement for a defective heart valve.

Development started about 10 years ago, and has resulted in a device that resembles a conventional ink jet printer with a nozzle designed to print patterns with a great deal of accuracy. The bio ink is a solution made of hormones that alter cell behaviour, which creates a blueprint for cells to grow and differentiate into different types of tissue.

Software was developed that allowed researchers to first print square patterns of bone bio-ink on glass slides, then place them into a dish with muscle stem cells from mice. Using patterning allowed both bone and muscle tissue to be regenerated this way. Instead of tucking paper into the printers, researchers print layers of tissue with stem cells. The printers have been adapted to deliver gel-like proteins and growth factors using multiple printer heads to build 3D patterns, layer by layer, then "baking" the stacked layers on top of each other in a three dimensional mould in a warm incubator for the organ to grow.

In addition to being used to treat babies with birth defects, scientists are hoping that this can be used as a treatment for Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease and other degenerative musculoskeletal conditions. Researchers are currently working on creating insulin-producing cells to treat diabetics, and engineering blood vessels for heart bypass surgery. In total they're working to grow more than 22 different organs and tissues in the laboratory, including kidney, esophagus, bladder, smooth muscle, cartilage, urethra, ureter, vessels, salivary glands, trachea, bone, breast, skeletal muscle, lung, retina, uterus, heart, testes, nerve, liver, pancreas and genitalia.

Researchers have already regenerated blood vessels, beating heart valves and even human bladders. Once scientists have established banks of about 100,000 specimens of placental and amniotic stem cells, the cells could also be used to create tissues and organs that could genetically match 99% of the US population.

Seeing the Technology in Action

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