Thursday, 11 February 2016

Making Artificial Organs with a Cotton Candy Machine

The mechanics of a cotton candy machine are proving useful to the quest to build life-sized artificial organs.

Capillaries are the body’s most narrow blood vessels. The thin-walled tubes are essential to organs, delivering oxygen and nutrients and carrying away waste. They also serve is a kind of scaffolding, their woven structure organizing the collection of liver or kidney cells.

Engineers at Vanderbilt University have been experimenting with cotton candy machines as a means to weave capillary-like structures using hydrogels. Unlike solid polymers, water-based gels allow vital fluids to flow through the structure more easily, mimicking the role of the tiny vessels.

It’s possible to build capillary scaffolding from the bottom up by culturing cells in a thin film of gel and allowing vessels to began forming on their own, but the process is slow and delicate.

Spinning hydrogel channels from a cotton candy machine — the top-down approach — is much faster.

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