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Future we deserve: organs made of plants

In the laboratory with a high ceiling, on a platter in a metal box lies an ear.


Actually it’s a piece of apple carved into the shape of an ear, but not quite the apple. Cellulose had been washed from the apple cells, and instead human cells were settled. This HeLa cells are notorious for cultivating the offspring in the form of cervical cancer for a long time. Yes, this ear is from the uterus, which is held up by apple.

ʺBiohacking is a new gardening,ʺ says Andrew Pelling, head of the Laboratory of biophysical manipulation of Pelling, University of Ottawa. Pelling eschews the current fashion for genetic and biochemical manipulation, examining the behavior of cells changing their physical environment.

The apple ear was created as a work of art referring to a known case where a human ear was grown on a mouse’s back, and the choice of HeLa cells was deliberately provocative. But the merging of plant and animal, which this work of art represents, is great promise for regenerative medicine, when a defective body parts can be replaced with engineering alternatives.

Engineers biomaterials, which create an alternative to our own body tissues, almost always involved animals — pigs, for example, bodies which are similar to ours. The vegetable kingdom is neglected to a large extent. However, it offers a huge variety of architectures, many of which can serve the needs of the human physiology. It also offers a way to move away from expensive proprietary biomaterials: the source code is open to everyone.

The main problem in the creation of the organ is to develop materials that will store the new cell in a body, save the form and organization of body. In the synthetic approach, a molded polymeric frame may be in the form of the body, and then bioresourse as soon as the new cells will gradually be replaced. Or cells of a donor organ can be washed out, until there is a “Ghost body” — collagen structures, which will then be populated by your own cells of the patient. In any case artificial and organic biomaterials are produced commercially and are very expensive.

Billions of dollars pass from hands to hands annually in the field of biomaterials: bones, cartilage, skin and whole organs are changed. The industry attracts talented researchers who are anxious to profit from their intellectual property, but most of the world cannot afford it. For example, few people can spend $ 800 per cubic centimeter decellularization skin allograft to restore badly torn rotatory cuff of the shoulder joint, but the apples make the same at a price of 1 cent for the same amount.

Buy a red apple in the grocery store (or take it up in the garden), cut and wash the area with soap and water, then sterilize in boiling water and get the net of fiber that is ready for use with human cells. Implanted under the skin, these forests quickly filled with cells of the surrounding tissues and blood vessels. Through eight weeks they are fully compatible with the body; an immune system does not even try not to deny them. The part of the plant begins to exist as an organism.

Although part of the work of Peeling requires the genetic manipulation, his enthusiasm is manifested more in the physical manipulation of the cells in pushing them with tiny needles, stretching with the laser or putting them into containers of different shapes, to see how they will organize themselves. The last approach may have a valuable application to complex medical problems like paraplegia.

The smallest capillaries in the stems of asparagus have a suitable size and shape to restore spinal cord. Pelling and neuroscientists have demonstrated that the nerve cells of mice grow well in these channels, and if the implants of the spinal cord tend to break down in the body, cellulose does not. “It is completely inert like titanium,” says Pelling. Similarly, rose petals perfectly form scaffolding for skin grafts.



ʺThis kind of research is important because it expands the toolkit. Such discoveries open up new opportunities for those working in translational medicine,ʺ biomaterials expert at the Harvard school of medicine, Jeffrey Karp says

The Pelling’s lab is in Canada, where it benefits from loyal regulatory environment. Unlike Europe, where there is a strong rejection of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), or the United States, with its history of contradictions, Canada encourages biohacking and overall research in the field of health. In 2011, the national Department of health of Canada even sponsor the Symposium “Our post-human future”, which can guess what was discussed (our post-human future, obviously).

To find the application in medicine, biomaterials with an open source, like the recipe of the decellularization of the apple above, must go through several stages of testing for approval by the regulatory authorities. If at the end of this process, profits will not be seen, clinical trials will need funding in the private sector. Globally available, locally produced and inexpensive biomaterials may become a target for philanthropists.

Although some biological studies require certified laboratories and multiple layers of security, many refuse this. The Pelling’s lab is developing methods that allow the General public to offer via tweets possible experiments for the laboratory or directly control the microscope or to try to repeat the results of the experiment at home using home biohacking equipment and widely available materials.

ʺImagine people creating a cellular structure exactly the same as they sacrifice the computing power of SETI, a search for extraterrestrial intelligence. All will break heads over this puzzle and we could test hundreds of conditions,ʺ Pelling says.

Places like Pelling’s lab promise to bring cell manipulation to the streets, whether we like it or not. Perhaps this is the future we deserve most: organs made of plants.

Source: hi-news

  • December 6, 2016 5:25 PM MSK