The Thinnest Slice


There’s something that interests me a lot in the latest issue of Discover magazine and I think I need to share this because many of my friends know absolutely nothing about this important medical breakthrough. That’s because in this age of information explosion, the amount of funny, stimulating junk in our Facebook feeds actually block out a lot of useful information.

Research surgeon Dr Anthony Atala is into something big. His lectures have been views by millions worldwide and he presents a hope (not just a dream) that one day, any malfunctioning part of us can be replaced with new parts grown from our own cells.

He shocked the world when he loaded a “normal” desktop printer’s ink cartridge with human cells and “printed” on a collagen matrix instead of paper. Impressive? Well, it seems that These man-made organs are not quite ready to replace defective ones yet. It may not even happen within our lifetimes. Check out this video.

As early as the turn of the century, Dr Atala had successfully created 7 functioning urinary bladders from collagen balloons populated with the patient’s own cells and placed them into the bodies of boys and girls with malfunctioning bladders. However, organs like kidneys and livers are far more complex. Dr Atala’s research team is still a long way from growing whole organs, but the technology to save patients with failed organs without transplants from a donor may not be far off.

During a walk on the beach, an idea struck Dr Atala. He realised that organs only start to shut down when 90% of the tissues are defective. There is a lot of redundancy in nature. Dr Atala reasoned that as long as he could slip in a slice of healthy tissue, giving the failing organ about 20% of viable tissue grown from his own cells, the patient may not need to have the entire organ replaced. A partial transplant. Such techniques may improve the quality of life for victims of organ failure.