Cotton Candy Machines Could Revolutionize Organ Transplantation: New Tissue Engineering Method Could Create Artificial Organs

Manasi Gandhi - Author
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Feb. 12 2016, Updated 4:09 p.m. ET

A humble cotton candy machine is about to revolutionize the field of tissue engineering and build artificial organs, paving the way forward for organ transplantation, research suggests.

Leon Bellan, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Vanderbilt University in Tennesse, has developed a process using cotton candy machines, to spin out networks of tiny threads comparable to capillaries. His goal is to eventually build fiber networks that can be used as templates to create full-scale artificial organs. His work, along with that of his colleagues, was published in an article by the Advanced Healthcare Materials journal.

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“Some people in the field think this approach is a little crazy. But now we’ve shown we can use this simple technique to make microfluidic networks that mimic the three-dimensional capillary system in the human body in a cell-friendly fashion. Generally, it’s not that difficult to make two-dimensional networks, but adding the third dimension is much harder; with this approach, we can make our system as three-dimensional as we like.”

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Many tissue engineering researchers, including Bellan, are currently focusing their efforts on hydrogels and using them as scaffolds to support cells within three-dimensional artificial organs.

There are two basic methods that researchers use to create artificial capillary systems, bottom-up and top-down. In the bottom-up process, scientists culture cells in a thin slab of gel. After some time, the cells spontaneously begin creating capillaries. But this is a time consuming process running into weeks. Hence, Bellan is using the top-down apporoach, using his cotton-candy spinning method, which can produce channels ranging from three to 55 microns, with a mean diameter of 35 microns.

“So far the other top-down approaches have only managed to create networks with microchannels larger than 100 microns, about ten times the size of capillaries,” he said.

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