The Future is Here: Liver-Cells Made With 3D Printer

bioprinterOngoing developments in 3D printing have allowed for some amazing breakthroughs in recent years. From its humble beginnings, manufacturing everything from 3D models and drugs to jewelry, the technology is rapidly expanding into the realm of the biological. This began with efforts to create printed cartilage and skin, but quickly expanded into using stem cells to create specific types of living tissues. And as it happens, some of those efforts are bearing some serious fruit!

One such example comes to us from California, where the San Diego-based firm Organova announced that they were able to create samples of liver cells using 3D printing technology. The firm presented their findings at the Experimental Biology conference in Boston this past April. In a press release, the company said the following:

We have demonstrated the power of bioprinting to create functional human tissue that replicates human biology better than what has come before.

3dstemcellsThe company’s researchers used a gel and “bioink” to build three types of liver cells and arranged them into the same kind of three-dimensional cell architecture found in a human liver. Although not fully functional, the 3D cells were able to produce some of the same proteins as an actual liver does and interacted with each other and with compounds introduced into the tissue as they would in the body.

This latest breakthrough places Organovo, indeed all biomedical research firms, that much closer to the dream of being able to synthesize human organs and other complex organic tissues. And they are hardly alone in narrowing the gap, as doctor’s at the University of Michigan made a similar advancement last year when they used a 3D printer to build a synthetic trachea for a child with a birth defect that had collapsed her airway.

bioprinted heartAs scientists get more familiar with the technology and the process of building shaped, organic cells that are capable of doing the same job as their natural counterparts, we are likely to be seeing more and more examples of synthetic organic tissue. In addition, its likely to be just a few more years before fully-functional synthetic organs are available for purchase. This will be a boon for both those looking for a transplant, as well as a medical system that is currently plagued by shortages and waiting lists.

And be sure to check out this CBC video of Keith Murphy, CEO of Organovo, explaining the process of bioprinting:


The Future is Here: Self-Healing Concrete!

concreteBack in 2009, the US suffered a rather serious embarrassment as the American Society of Civil Engineers gave its national infrastructure a grade ‘D’. To make matters worse, they claimed that getting that grade up to a ‘B’ standard would require roughly $2.2 trillion worth of investment. So, any technology that might make repairing bridges, roads, and buildings easier, and perhaps cheaper, has been welcomed with open arms.

And this might just be a topical solution, not to mention a very impressive sign of things to come. Led by Chan-Moon Chung, a professor of chemistry at Yonsei University in South Korea, researchers have come up with a protective coating for concrete that seals up cracks when exposed to sunlight. Not only would this save billions in infrastructure costs, it would address a central problem civil engineers have always faced.

MODEL5_plus 1..1For starters, concrete is a strong and resilient substance, but a brittle one as well. Tiny fractures appear quite easily over time, and exposure to wind and rain cause these to expand. This new substance addresses that through the polymer microcapsules it contains, which melt when exposed to the sun and fill these in. What’s more, Chung says the agent is relatively inexpensive, and won’t freeze in winter.

And his is not the only proposed solution for a new “smart concrete” system. A team from the Delft University of Technology, in the Netherlands, has developed a living “bio-concrete”, which used a mixture that is impregnated with a bacteria called Bacillus megaterium to produce a crack-filling mineral, called calcite (calcium carbonate). And similar research is being conducted at Northumbria University and the University of Michigan. megaterium

But all of this may take a backseat to Michelle Pelletier of the University of Rhode Island who, along with URI Chemical Engineering Professor Arijit Rose, began work on a self-healing concrete back in 2010. In her specialized concrete matrix, micro-encapsulated sodium silicate is embedded and used as the healing agent, rather than a method that generates silicate.

When cracks form, these silicate capsules rupture and react with calcium hydroxide, which is already present in the concrete. These come together to form a calcium-silica-hydrate gel that heals the cracks and blocks the concrete’s pores, all in the space of about a week. According to Pelletier, this method is more cost-effective than the proposed calcium carbonate solutions and does not require an environmental trigger like sunlight or moisture, just pressure.

smart_concreteThe benefits of these new concepts for “smart concrete” present many benefits. Not only are they likely to save money in maintenance costs for cities everywhere, concrete can be infused with these repairing gels and manufactures cheaply. This puts them in contrast with other proposed “smart-materials”, which offer the possibility of being self-repairing but cost an arm and a leg to produce.



The Future is Here: The Perpetual Motion Pacemaker!

According to the Laws of Thermal Dynamics, there is no such things as perpetual motion. However, engineers at the University of Michigan seemed to have created a device which defies that rule. Not only that, they seem to have overcome one of the pacemakers greatest drawbacks, i.e. the fact that it requires batteries to keep working. Utilizing a process known as piezoelectricity – electricity generated by pressure and/or external force – they have created the world’s first pacemaker which is powered by the beating of one’s heart.

pacemaker1This is an exciting development for obvious reasons: by creating a pacemaker which can utilize the vibrations in the chest cavity to power itself, this device can function indefinitely. As long as the user’s heart keeps beating, the pacemaker will continue to assist the heart in maintaining its rhythm. Hence the concept of perpetual motion, where feedback is used to keep things going for an infinite duration.

Currently, pacemakers are powered by batteries which have a duration of a few years. This requires that patients undergo surgery regularly in order to keep their pacemakers in working order. According to M. Amin Karami, the lead researcher, “Many of the patients are children who live with pacemakers for many years,” he said. “You can imagine how many operations they are spared if this new technology is implemented.”

The piezoelectric pacemaker is about the size of a regular battery, and has been tested extensively. According to Karami, it was able to generate create enough electricity from as few as 20 beats per minute, or as many as 600, to maintain a healthy heartbeat. However, there are still likely to be many years of testing before it is approved for medical use.

But most exciting is the implications this pacemaker has for other biomedical devices such as dispensers and sensors – all of which would live under our skin and be powered by our body heat and movements. Image if everyone was born with a defibrillator/pacemaker implanted in their chest. Surely, death from heart disease would drop substantially, and people would even be able to jack their heart rate up in emergency situations.

Check out this video of the piezoelectric pacemaker in action.

Source: Extreme Tech

The Future is Here: Insect Biobots!

One small step for man, one giant leap for man-machine interface! Or man-roach interface, I guess! It seems that researchers at the iBionicS lab at North Carolina State University have created a remote-control system to stimulate and steer cockroaches. This report came at the 34th Annual International Conference of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine & Biology Society last month, and represents quite the step forward for cybernetics.

In short, the research team equipped a Madagascar hissing cockroach with a circuit board that connects directly to its antennae. It’s a well known fact that cockroaches, in addition to being nuclear war-resistant, use their two antennas to find their way around. By sending electrical signals to one or the other, they were able to steer the cockroach as it made its way around.

To be fair, this is not the first case of insect cyborgs being developed. In 2009, the researchers at iBionicS unveiled a similar program using remote-controlled hawk moths. In that same year, the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Michigan presented their collaborate project: remote-controlled beetles! Here, the beetles had electrodes wired into their brains and flight muscles which were used to command them to take off and steer them while in the air.

Interestingly enough, research in both of these latter cases was being funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) with the goal of creating remote-controlled insects could go where humans cannot and aid in search-and-rescue or even spy missions. You’ve heard of UAV’s, aka. spy drones, doing reconnaissance, right? Well look out! The next time you see a flying beetle or a hawk moth, you could be on someone’s camera. Smile before you step on it!

And be sure to check out the video below of iBionicS lad testing their remote-control roach steering system.

Source: Discover Magazine