Monday, April 26, 2010

Anthony Atala on growing new organs

By Kayla H.

"Wouldn't it be great if our bodies could regenerate? Wouldn't it be great that we could harness the power of our bodies to actually heal ourselves?". Those are the questions stated by director Anthony Atala and his research team of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine focusing on growing and regenerating tissues and organs.

Anthony Atala starts off his talk with an introductory to the first organ ever transplanted - the kidney, back in 1954. He then begins that the amount of patients waiting for organ donation has doubled in the last decade. Though medicine has been doing a better job at keeping us alive, we grow older and our organs tend to not work as well as they use to, limiting the supply of not only organs but as well as tissue transplants. Atala states that every 30 seconds a patient dies from a disease that could be treated with tissue replacement. He confides that regenerating happens ever day on this earth, using the example of a salamander regenerating its limb within days after it was injured using timed photography.

"Why can't humans regenerate? Well actually, we can," Anthony states. He explains that humans can regenerate, giving examples such as our bones and how they regenerate as we grow with age, or our skin and how it regenerates every 2 weeks. Our bodies are constantly regenerating, when we are sick or when we get a disease, the body wants to seal itself off with scar tissue to fight infection whether it's with organs inside your body, or skin on the outside of your body.

He explains that he and his research team had successfully repaired an injured urethra in 1996 using natural bio thermal material within 6 weeks time. The bio thermal material had acted like a bridge, where cells could take over in the process of healing the urethra. Even with the success, he says that the material can only be used on small injuries that are within 1 cm distance.

For larger structures research has shown that to repair organs and tissue, they can use cells. For example, a patient has an injured organ, the research team would take a small sample of the cells from that tissue, no larger than a postage stamp and break it down into its two types of cells, and look at the basic components of the patients own cells. You grow and expand those cells outside of the body in large quantities, and then use scaffold materials used as a vehicle to bring the cells inside of the body. An example of this technique was of a muscle bio-reactor, showing muscles being exercised in the piece of machinery, so that the piece is already well developed and in full condition. Before being exercised, the piece of tissue is put in a type of oven, same temperature as the human body to also help in the progress of development. Another example shown was a man-made blood vessel from your neck to your brain, using the same similar strategy as used for the muscle.
More complex organs or tissues were a bladder, a heart valve, and one of the many complex, hard organs, where the example's were an ear, and the beginning of a bone structure. The hardest organs to develop are ones that give high vascular support such as the heart, liver, or the kidneys. For those organs one of the strategies used is a type of printer that instead of using ink, they use cells to print off the organs. The example shown was a two chamber heart being printed off, one layer at a time, taking about 40 minutes to print. Approximately 4-6 hours later, you see the muscle cells contract. This technique however has not been varified yet, it is for experimental purposes only.

Another experimental strategy that was used was cellularized organs - discarded/donated organs, used with a liver in this case, where cells were taken out of the organ entirely, leaving a sort of "skeleton" left over, all made up of callogen. They can then retain the blood vessel supply of the organ, and inject contrast into the organ. You can then see the vascular tree that remains intact, where after they inject the patient's cells into the organ, and on the outside. In development are kidneys, using a similar technique as the liver.
Overall, Regenerative Medicine are limited with distances, and if they cannot use natural bio thermal material, then it is preferred to take samples of cells from the specified organ of the patient. Although in the video everything looks like it is working, but in reality the technologies are not that easy. Some of the projects performed took over 700 researchers at the institute over a 20 year time span. "Once you get the formula right, you can replicate it, but it takes a lot to get there," Anthony exclaimed.

As a result, Anthony verifies that for 14 years, the clinic has been implanting the different structures of organs and tissues into patients, and it so far has been a success.

Overall, I find it as a well done presentation. Anthony Atala shows that he is a comfortable speaker, and knows what he's talking about. But, the expense of the surgeries has not been said, making me wonder if poorer countries would be able to afford this, and how much it would even be for the more stable countries. That little bit of information I find is a major piece of information that should have been shared.

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