At TEDMED, I witnessed video clips showing science I never knew was so advanced. Dr. Anthony Atala has been growing human tissue and organs, in a lab, for nearly two decades. He's even printed kidneys from a cell-stuffed inkjet printer.
The footage below is from the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, one of the world's largest labs dedicated to regenerative medicine—a field interested in repairing or replacing human tissue so the body can self-heal.
This collection is sort of a greatest hits of Dr. Atala's last 20 years of research (no, none of this was done overnight on a whim), though almost none of what you'll see has left the lab for clinical trials. Karen Richardson, Sr. Communications Manager at the lab, walks us through the videos in the gallery below. Watch the clips, then scroll down for our Q&A with mad (but completely sane) scientist Dr. Anthony Atala.
Interview With Dr. Atala
What can we do in organ growing/generation today?
Laboratory-grown organs and tissues are already benefiting patients today. For example, laboratory-grown bladders are being tested in children with spina bifida and adults with spinal cord injuries and will soon be tested in patients with bladder cancer. Tissue engineering technology has been used to repair narrowed urethras, the tube that empties urine from the body.
What will we be doing in 5 years?
We are currently working to engineer 22 different tissues and organs in the laboratory, including blood vessels, heart valves, bone, muscle, kidneys livers. Scientific progress isn't always linear, so it's impossible to predict how long it will take to reach our goals.
In addition to tissue engineering, our lab and others are working toward cell therapies to benefit a variety of conditions, from diabetes to urinary incontinence and heart failure. There are many challenges to overcome—and the timeframe is impossible to predict—but we do see promise in these technologies.
In 20? (I know, totally nuts, but that's what makes it so fun.)
I don't know how long it will take, but I do foresee a future when organs will be available off-the-shelf, ready to "plug in" and replace injured or diseased organs. I believe we'll have a boutique of technologies that will includes tissue engineering and cell therapies and doctors will select the ideal treatment based on the patient's needs.
[Final image: A human bladder is engineered in the laboratory using a biodegradable, three-dimension scaffold that supports bladder cells while they multiple and develop. A technician is "seeding" cells on the scaffold. (Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine). For more information on these projects, go here.]
This week, Gizmodo is exploring the enhanced human future in a segment we call This Cyborg Life. It's about what happens when we treat our body less as a sacred object and more as what it is: Nature's ultimate machine.