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 user 2005-03-17 at 10:59:00 am Views: 148
  • #10902
    Weird Science: Printing a New Body

    TORONTO,You’ve been shooting back whiskey your whole life
    and your liver is screaming for mercy. Knowing how uncomfortable a liver
    transplant could be, you opt for a safer route: Drop some cells off at the
    doctor’s office and wait for a machine to manufacture a new liver designed for
    your body.

    Welcome to the future of tissue engineering, where that new
    organ could be designed with the unlikeliest of tools: An inkjet

    “This could have the same kind of impact that Gutenberg’s press
    did,” says Vladimir Mironov, director of the Shared Tissue Engineering
    Laboratory at the Medical University of South Carolina. Spearheaded by Mironov,
    a team of scientists has configured inkjet printers to shoot out proteins
    instead of ink, using thermoreversible gel instead of paper to capture the 3D

    Thomas Boland, an assistant bioengineering professor at Clemson
    University, modified the printer and he says “printing a nose isn’t so far off.
    Cartilage uses only one cell type.” Mironov adds that a printed nose could take
    only five minutes to create.

    While the scientists — the first to print
    living tissue — have already built hamster ovaries, printing complex organs like
    livers is years away. But not impossible, thanks to this intriguing

    “We always need a harmonious vascular tree,” remarks
    Mironov, alluding to a biology-class term of tissue tubes common throughout the
    body. By printing these tubes in an area as large and sensitive as
    a human
    organ, scientists can pass the first step in organ regeneration.

    As eerie
    as this Face/Off scenario sounds, Mironov underlines the positive
    impacts: Organ transplants can be replaced by tissue-engineering technology;
    testing drugs on printed organs can sidestep the ethical issue of using humans
    as guinea pigs; and tissue engineering can be the new plastic surgery, allowing
    someone to print Madonna’s nose — if she’s willing to donate her

    With the benefits outlined, Mironov excitedly dives into an
    explanation on the printing process, dropping words like “aggregates” and
    “prototyping.” Essentially, ink cartridges are filled with clumps of living
    cells and what’s called smart gel. The printer nozzle prints the cells and gel,
    which serves as the paper, and then the cells fuse to form tubes — 3D structures
    unseen in any petri dish procedure. The smart gel is later cooled, then washed
    away to leave only cells behind. Special software quarterbacks the

    “When I first saw how exact the cells lined up in 3D space,”
    Mironov says, “I said, ‘Wow! Now that’s a solution.’” Mironov adds a chilling
    concept: “Once we learn how to produce isolated body parts, we could eventually
    be able to build a whole body.”

    The science community recognizes the
    tissue-engineering work as an innovative path to futuristic health care. Mironov
    was a finalist for a World Technology Award, in the health and medicine
    category, and Mironov and Boland were invited to an Orlando symposium to speak
    on organ printing.

    Optimistic that his work will shake up fields like
    stem-cell research and nanotechnology, Mironov believes cell printers will be as
    commonplace as microscopes. “This is a friendly technology that poses no ethical
    problems,” he says. “The only question is not when progress will be made, but
    where the money is going to come from.” Like all scientific innovations, funding
    is the force that keeps the research and development flowing; unfortunately for
    Mironov et al., grants and private donors aren’t stepping forward.

    saving grace is the inexpensive printers implemented in this delicate process.
    Instead of using the newest models, the tissue-engineering team has chosen
    Hewlett-Packard’s 600 series, a 10-year-old model. The reason? Bigger print

    Science is not as complex as you thought it was. And that fresh,
    alcohol-free liver is not as unlikely as you thought it would