Scientists 3D Print Human Heart with Biological Material

Patti MayonnaiseNovember 4, 20154,582 Views
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With the latest 3D printing technology, scientists can now construct actual working bridges on Earth, produce flexible prosthetics for amputees and even manufacture firearms. However, one of their most impressive new achievements may potentially be the innovations in producing organic materials such as human organs. More specifically, 3D printing usage to save lives. It just so happens that researchers are on the ball already.

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The team of researchers at Carnegie Mellon has managed to produce models of various human organs and body parts using a hacked 3D printer purchased commercially. Their new research currently published in the journal Science Advances demonstrates that it is more than possible to replicate the heart through this 3D printing process.

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3D printing of various materials has been a common trend in tissue engineering in the last decade, but until now, no one had developed a method for assembling common tissue engineering gels like collagen or fibrin,” said a biomedical engineering graduate student at Carnegie Mellon and lead author of the study, TJ Hinton in a statement.

Since biological materials are soft and fragile, it proved to be quite the challenge for scientists throughout the study. As soft materials tend to collapse under their own weight when printed in air, the soft objects had to be printed inside a material that could support their structure. To solve this dilemma, scientists developed a “bath” of chemicals, a support gel similar to exoskeleton, which was utilized to hold the fragile soft printed structure together as it was formed. Following the printing, the support gel is melted away with heat equivalent to a body temperature (99 degrees) leaving the soft organic material intact.

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It’s important to remember that these soft materials are not just plastic copies of biological matter. Instead, they consist of collagens, muscle fibers, miniature brain structures and branching artery patterns made of biological matter which are all produced using this technique. Quite possibly the most impressive aspect is that they use magnetic resonance imaging MRI scans of human coronary arteries and 3D images of embryonic human hearts to 3D print replicas of both. This form of “bioprinting” is being dubbed with the acronym FRESH (Freeform Reversible Embedding of Suspended Hydrogels.)

Through the printing a series of artery trees with this technique, the greatest achievement by the team is having produced complex biological structures with unprecedented degrees of precisions. Their next step is to inject heart cells into these 3D printed biological tissue structures which basically fills in the printed “scaffolding” with its biological “concrete.”

Scientists have developed an eye drop that can dissolve cataracts

A whole lot better than surgery.

Researchers in the US have developed a new drug that can be delivered directly into the eye via an eye dropper to shrink down and dissolve cataracts – the leading cause of blindness in humans.

While the effects have yet to be tested on humans, the team from the University of California, San Diego hopes to replicate the findings in clinical trials and offer an alternative to the only treatment that’s currently available to cataract patients – painful and often prohibitively expensive surgery.

Affecting tens of millions of people worldwide, cataracts cause the lens of the eye to become progressively cloudy, and when left untreated, can lead to total blindness. This occurs when the structure of the crystallin proteins that make up the lens in our eyes deteriorates, causing the damaged or disorganised proteins to clump and form a milky blue or brown layer. While cataracts cannot spread from one eye to the other, they can occur independently in both eyes.

Scientists aren’t entirely sure what causes cataracts, but most cases are related to age, with the US National Eye Institute reporting that by the age of 80, more than half of all Americans either have a cataract, or have had cataract surgery. While unpleasant, the surgical procedure to remove a cataract is very simple and safe, but many communities in developing countries and regional areas do not have access to the money or facilities to perform it, which means blindness is inevitable for the vast majority of patients.

According to the Fred Hollows Foundation, an estimated 32.4 million people around the world today are blind, and 90 percent of them live in developing countries. More than half of these cases were caused by cataracts, which means having an eye drop as an alternative to surgery would make an incredible difference.

The new drug is based on a naturally-occurring steroid called lanosterol. The idea to test the effectiveness of lanosterol on cataracts came to the researchers when they became aware of two children in China who had inherited a congenital form of cataract, which had never affected their parents. The researchers discovered that these siblings shared a mutation that stopped the production of lanosterol, which their parents lacked.

So if the parents were producing lanosterol and didn’t get cataracts, but their children weren’t producing lanosterol and did get cataracts, the researchers proposed that the steroid might halt the defective crystallin proteins from clumping together and forming cataracts in the non-congenital form of the disease.

They tested their lanosterol-based eye drops in three types of experiments. They worked with human lens in the lab and saw a decrease in cataract size. They then tested the effects on rabbits, and according to Hanae Armitage at Science Mag, after six days, all but two of their 13 patients had gone from having severe cataracts to mild cataracts or no cataracts at all. Finally, they tested the eye drops on dogs with naturally occurring cataracts. Just like the human lens in the lab and the rabbits, the dogs responded positively to the drug, with severe cataracts shrinking away to nothing, or almost nothing.

The results have been published in Nature.

“This is a really comprehensive and compelling paper – the strongest I’ve seen of its kind in a decade,” molecular biologist Jonathan King from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) told Armitage. While not affiliated with this study, King has been involved in cataract research for the past 15 years. “They discovered the phenomena and then followed with all of the experiments that you should do – that’s as biologically relevant as you can get.”

The next step is for the researchers to figure out exactly how the lanosterol-based eye drops are eliciting this response from the cataract proteins, and to progress their research to human trials.

Researchers grow human lungs in lab for first time

Researchers grow human lungs in lab for first time

Published February 17, 2014

In a breakthrough that could one day revolutionize transplant medicine, researchers have successfully grown human lungs in a lab for the first time, Medical News Today reported.

Using portions of lungs from two deceased children, researchers from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston created a scaffold-like structure by stripping one set of lungs down to just collagen and elastin – the main components in connective tissue.

The researchers then gathered cells from the other set of lungs and applied them to the scaffolding, before placing it in a chamber filled with nutritious liquid. Four weeks later, the team had a complete human lung – and they were able to successfully repeat the procedure using another set of lungs.

The researchers first developed this technique in 2010, and have since tested the method on rat lungs and pig lungs before testing it on human lungs.

“It’s taken us a year to prove to ourselves that we actually did a good job with it. You don’t run out immediately and tell the world you have something wonderful until you’ve proved it to ourselves that we really did something amazing,”  researcher Dr. Joan Nichols said.

Though the researchers are excited about their discovery, they said it could take a minimum of 12 years before the use of lab-generated lungs in human transplants becomes a reality

Researchers Discover How Flu Gains Foothold in the Body

Researchers Discover How Flu Gains Foothold in the Body

If you’ve ever wondered how the flu virus succeeds at infecting so many people, a new study of mice may offer some insight. The flu actually targets cells of the immune system that are best able to disarm the virus, according to the study. These first responders, known as memory B cells, produce antibodies that can bind to the virus and neutralize it. These cells also reside in the lung where they can protect against re-exposure to the virus.

The influenza virus.

The influenza virus.

Researchers found, however, that the flu virus attacks these memory B cells first to disrupt antibody production, allowing it to replicate more efficiently and prevent the immune system from mounting a second defense. “We can now add this to the growing list of ways that the flu virus has to establish infection,” study co-author Joseph Ashour, as postdoctoral researcher at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, said in an institute news release. “This is how the virus gains a foothold,” study co-author Stephanie Dougan, also a postdoctoral researcher in the lab of Whitehead member Hidde Ploegh, explained. “The virus targets memory cells in the lung, which allows infection to be established—even if the immune system has seen this flu before.”


Memory B cells, which have virus-specific receptors, are difficult to isolate. To address this issue, the researchers attached a fluorescent label to the flu virus, which allowed them to identify flu-specific B cells. They then used a cloning technique to create a line of mice with virus-specific B cells and cell receptors. The study authors suggested that the infectious process of the flu is probably used by other viruses as well. “We can now make highly effective immunological models for a variety of pathogens,” Dougan concluded. “This is actually a perfect model for studying memory immune cells.”

Scientists note, however, that research with animals often fails to produce similar results in humans. “This is research that could help with rational vaccine design, leading to more effective vaccines for seasonal flu,” Ashour said. “It might even suggest novel strategies for conferring immunity.”



Provided by Rebecca McGonigle, Wellstyles Newsletter, November 2013, Valley Schools Employee Benefits Trust (VSEBT).


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Down Syndrome Treatment Study Shows Experimental Drug Reverses Cognitive Deficits In Mice

Down Syndrome Treatment Study Shows Experimental Drug Reverses Cognitive Deficits In Mice

The Huffington Post  |  By Posted: 09/05/2013 6:41 pm EDT

down syndrome

There’s still no cure for Down syndrome, but recent research is raising hopes that drugs can be found to counter the cognitive deficit that characterizes the genetic disorder.

In July, University of Massachusetts researchers said they had found a way to shut down the extra chromosome that causes the syndrome, at least in test tubes. And now comes word that scientists have identified a compound that brings dramatic improvements in learning and memory in mice bred to have a Down-like condition. One injection of the compound given on the day of birth seemed to work by allowing the animals’ cerebellums to grow to full size.

“Most people with Down syndrome have a cerebellum that’s about 60 percent of the normal size,” Dr. Roger H. Reeves, a professor at Johns Hopkins University and one of the scientists behind the research, said in a written statement. “We treated the Down syndrome-like mice with a compound we thought might normalize the cerebellum’s growth, and it worked beautifully… We were able to completely normalize growth of the cerebellum through adulthood with that single injection.”

Those bigger cerebellums certainly seemed to do the trick. In subsequent tests, mice given the injection were significantly better than untreated mice at learning and remembering how to find their way while swimming in a so-called water maze.

Just what is the stuff that brings this amazing result? It’s a complex organic molecule that belongs to a family of compounds known as “sonic hedgehog pathway agonists.” The compounds seem to “supercharge” the action of sonic hedgehog, a “growth factor” protein that helps regulate growth and development of body tissues.

Reeves said the molecule could eventually find use as a human drug, adding that clinical trials are already underway to evaluate other cognition-enhancing drugs in people with Down syndrome. But he said the molecule won’t be ready for clinical trials until several hurdles are overcome–including making sure the compound doesn’t cause cancer, uncontrolled growth, or other serious problems.

“We have to figure out the minimum doses and modes of delivery, example possible side effects and optimize timing before it could be considered as a possibility for human trials,” Dr. Reeves told The Huffington Post in an email, adding that funding for such research was in short supply.

Even if the compound does become a drug, of course, it wouldn’t represent a cure for Down syndrome. The condition, which results from an extra copy of chromosome 21, can cause heart trouble, bowel problems, sleep apnea, and other problems in addition to the characteristic intellectual disability and facial features.

“Down syndrome is very complex, and nobody thinks there’s going to be a silver bullet that normalizes the condition,” Reeves said in the statement. “Multiple approaches will be needed.”

About one in every 800 babies in the U.S. is born with Down syndrome, according to the website of the Down Syndrome Research and Treatment Foundation. Worldwide, just under six million people have the condition, including about 350,000 people in the U.S.

The new research findings were published in the Sept. 4, 2013 issue of Science Translational Medicine.

Tiny stem-cell livers grown in laboratory

Tiny stem-cell livers grown in laboratory

By James GallagherHealth and science reporter, BBC News

LiverThe liver breaks down toxins

Tiny functioning human livers have been grown from stem cells in the laboratory by scientists in Japan.

They said they were “gobsmacked” when liver buds, the earliest stage of the organ’s development, formed spontaneously.

The team, reporting their findings in Nature, hope that transplanting thousands of liver buds could reverse liver failure.

Experts welcomed the findings, describing them as “exciting”.

Scientists around the world are trying to grow organs in the lab to overcome a shortage of organ donors.

Some patients already have bladders made from their own cells, but dense solid organs such as the liver and kidneys are much harder to produce.

Grow your ownThe team at the Yokohama City University were reproducing the earliest stages of liver development – similar to that in an embryo.

They had mixed three types of cells – two types of stem cells and material taken from the umbilical cord.

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The promise of an off-the-shelf-liver seems much closer than one could hope even a year ago”

Dr Dusko IlicKing’s College London

Unexpectedly, the cells began to organise themselves and appeared to curl up to form a liver bud.

These buds were transplanted into mice, where they hooked themselves up with the blood supply and began to function as little livers.

The transplants increased the lifespan of mice with liver failure.

Prof Takanori Takebe said: “We just simply mixed three cell types and found that they unexpectedly self-organise to form a three-dimensional liver bud – this is a rudimentary liver.

“And finally we proved that liver bud transplantation could offer therapeutic potential against liver failure.”

He told the BBC that he was “completely gobsmacked” and “absolutely surprised” when he first witnessed the buds forming.

Treatment hope

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This is a significant advance for the field of regenerative medicine.

It might seem like science fiction but there are already people walking around today with organs made from stem cells.

A major breakthrough came in 2006 when bladders made from patients’ own cells were implanted. Grown windpipes have also been transplanted.

In regenerative medicine there are four levels of complexity: flat structures such as skin; tubessuch as blood vessels; hollow organs such as the bladder; and solid organs such as the kidney, heart and liver.

The last group is the most difficult as they are complex organs containing many types of tissue.

This is a new approach to growing solid organs and is yet another window on what could be the future of organ transplants.

It is thought that other organs such as the pancreas, kidneys and even the lungs could be developed in the same way. However, turning this into a treatment is still a distant prospect.

The buds are 4-5mm in length but the researchers say they would need to develop buds that are much smaller and could be injected into the blood.

The buds would not grow to be a whole new liver, but would embed themselves in the failing one and restore it.

Dr Varuna Aluvihare, a liver transplant physician at King’s College Hospital in London, told BBC News: “This a great piece of work and as a proof of concept, very interesting.

“The real highlight is that such simple mixtures of cells can differentiate and organise themselves into highly complex tissue structures that function well in an animal model.”

He said the liver was very damaged in chronic liver disease so there were still questions about where the buds were transplanted and how they would function.

The risk of a tumour developing after the transplant would also need to be assessed.

Dr Dusko Ilic, a stem cell scientist at King’s College London, said: “The strategy is very promising, and represents a huge step forward.

“Although the promise of an off-the-shelf-liver seems much closer than one could hope even a year ago, the paper is only a proof of concept. There is much unknown and it will take years before it could be applied in regenerative medicine.”

Prof Chris Mason, the chair of regenerative medicine at University College London, said there might be more immediate benefits for drug testing.

New medicines can be toxic to the human liver in a way which does not show up in animal tests. He said using liver buds might be a better way to test for toxicity.

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Major progress toward ‘artificial pancreas’

Doctors report major progress toward ‘artificial pancreas’

Published June 23, 2013

Associated Press
  • diabetesap.jpg

    October 2012: This image provided by Medtronic shows the MiniMed Integrated System device, which doctors are reporting as a major step toward an “artificial pancreas.” (AP)

Doctors are reporting a major step toward an “artificial pancreas,” a device that would constantly monitor blood sugar in people with diabetes and automatically supply insulin as needed.

A key component of such a system — an insulin pump programmed to shut down if blood-sugar dips too low while people are sleeping — worked as intended in a three-month study of 247 patients.

This “smart pump,” made by Minneapolis-based Medtronic Inc., is already sold in Europe, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is reviewing it now. Whether it also can be programmed to mimic a real pancreas and constantly adjust insulin based on continuous readings from a blood-sugar monitor requires more testing, but doctors say the new study suggests that’s a realistic goal.

“This is the first step in the development of the artificial pancreas,” said Dr. Richard Bergenstal, diabetes chief at Park Nicollet, a large clinic in St. Louis Park, Minn. “Before we said it’s a dream. We have the first part of it now and I really think it will be developed.”

He led the company-sponsored study and gave results Saturday at an American Diabetes Association conference in Chicago. They also were published online by the New England Journal of Medicine.

The study involved people with Type 1 diabetes, the kind usually diagnosed during childhood. About 5 percent of the 26 million Americans with diabetes have this type. Their bodies don’t make insulin, a hormone needed to turn food into energy. That causes high blood-sugar levels and raises the risk for heart disease and many other health problems.

Some people with the more common Type 2 diabetes, the kind linked to obesity, also need insulin and might also benefit from a device like an artificial pancreas. For now, though, it’s aimed at people with Type 1 diabetes who must inject insulin several times a day or get it through a pump with a narrow tube that goes under the skin. The pump is about the size of a cellphone and can be worn on a belt or kept in a pocket.

The pumps give a steady amount of insulin, and patients must monitor their sugar levels and give themselves more insulin at meals or whenever needed to keep blood sugar from getting too high.

A big danger is having too much insulin in the body overnight, when blood-sugar levels naturally fall. People can go into comas, suffer seizures and even die. Parents of children with diabetes often worry so much about this that they sneak into their bedrooms at night to check their child’s blood-sugar monitor.

In the study, all patients had sensors that continuously monitored their blood sugar. Half of them had ordinary insulin pumps and the others had pumps programmed to stop supplying insulin for two hours when blood-sugar fell to a certain threshold.

Over three months, low-sugar episodes were reduced by about one-third in people using the pump with the shut-off feature. Importantly, these people had no cases of severely low blood sugar — the most dangerous kind that require medical aid or help from another person. There were four cases in the group using the standard pump.

“As a first step, I think we should all be very excited that it works,” an independent expert, Dr. Irl Hirsch of the University of Washington in Seattle, said of the programmable pump.

The next step is to test having it turn off sooner, before sugar falls so much, and to have it automatically supply insulin to prevent high blood sugar, too.

Dr. Anne Peters, a diabetes specialist at the University of Southern California, said the study “represents a major step forward” for an artificial pancreas.

One participant, Spears Mallis, 34, a manager for a cancer center in Gainesville, Ga., wishes these devices were available now. He typically gets low-sugar about 8 to 10 times a week, at least once a week while he’s asleep.

“I would set an alarm in the middle of the night just to be sure I was OK. That will cause you to not get a good night of rest,” he said.

His “smart pump” stopped giving insulin several times during the study when his sugar fell low, and he wasn’t always aware of it. That’s a well-known problem for people with Type 1 diabetes — over time, “you become less and less sensitive to feeling the low blood sugars” and don’t recognize symptoms in time to drink juice or do something else to raise sugar a bit, he said.

Besides Medtronic, Johnson & Johnson and several other research groups are working on artificial pancreas devices.

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