Regrowing skin, bones and even organs might seem like something out of a mad scientist’s lab, but the reality isn’t so crazy. Jorge Ribas finds out how tissue engineering could help the sick and injured. … –discovery
Lightning bolts could help create artificial organs, according to new research by scientists at Texas A&M University.
An electrically charged block of plastic gives way to a series of tunnel-carving lightning bolts when a nail is driven into it. Adding human blood vessel cells to the tunnels could create a template upon which an artificial organ could grow.
“One of the biggest problems in tissue engineering is how to create a vascular network to feed the growing tissue,” said Arul Jayaraman, a professor at Texas A&M who, along with his colleague Victor Ugaz, co-authored the study that appears in the journal Advanced Materials. “The structure of these networks closely resembles the human vasculature.”
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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.
With each strike of the hammer, lightning streaks through the block and exits through the nail, leaving tiny tunnels in its wake. “It’s pretty spectacular,” said Jayaraman. “It looks just like lightning bolts.”
… “If you took kidneys from five different people and sliced them open, you would not see the exact same vascular pattern, at the microscopic level,” said Hunziker, “even though the overall structure would be the same.”
Creating a block of what resembles frozen lightning is only a first step to growing new organs.