From Cotton Candy To Artificial Organs


This week cotton candy makers are helping to make artificial organs!

Scientist have successfully been able to make a 3D capillary system that can function and keep cells alive for over a week using a machine based on a cotton candy maker! What does that mean? Well, scientists that study tissues have been using a material called hydrogel (like the gel you would style your hair with) to support complex structures of capillaries (tiny branching blood vessels) like you find in your own body. But they run into difficulty when they try to keep the capillary cells alive within the gel, because they must be extremely close together in order to survive. This means that the scientists must make incredibly complicated networks of channels made of cells suspended in the hydrogel structure to create a mass the size of an organ, and it turns out the cotton candy machine was perfect for this!

Leon Bellan from Vanderbilt University first thought of the possible uses of a cotton candy maker while in graduate school. He went out and bought one from Target, and discovered that the sugar threads it spun were roughly the same size as a capillary. He then set about fine tuning the machine to be able to spin the cell and gel structures he needed.

The final machine that successfully spun the 3D capillary structure closely resembles the candy maker that inspired it, and scientists are hoping to continue using it to make different types of tissue structures, using a variety of cells. Their final goal is to create a low-cost way to produce tissues that can be used in the creation of artificial organs for those who need them!

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Feb 10, 2016

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