Categorized | Featured, Science

TEDMED – Anthony Atala on Growing New Organs

Updated: Jan 19, 2011

Mind-blowing advances in bio-engineering and medicine presented by Anthony Atala at TEDMED. Repairing, reconstructing, and growing functioning organs with your own cell. The future of solving organ damage and organ donor shortages is arriving.

It’s great how much headway science has made in this area. The technological side of science is advancing just like electronic gadgets have. This is what we need to help people once they have acute problems beyond what the body is able to repair given a healthy lifestyle. On the other hand, for prevention we need to implement healthy eating habits and an overall healthy lifestyle. Unfortunately these cheaper and more cost effective methods of lifestyle changes find much more resistance. Cultural norms of what we eat, the difficulty of changing habits, and powerful interest groups have made simple changes to combat obesity, smoking, and unhealthy eating habits less successful.

Presentation Highlights – keep in mind that some of these technologies took over 700 researchers over 20 years to develop.

The first organ transplant was conducted in 1954. Unfortunately, in the last decade patients waiting for transplants has doubled while donors have stayed about the same.

“Every 30 seconds, a patient dies from diseases that could be treated with tissue replacement” or tissue regeneration.

“First use of natural biomaterial in humans for tissue regeneration, 1996.”

Our bodies can regenerate but only for limited distances. The maximum distance for regeneration is about 1 cm, unlike salamanders who can grow back entire limbs. Ideally smart balm materials that regenerate your tissue are the goal and right now the challenge is to increase the distances they can regenerate beyond the 1 cm. For injuries on larger scales and larger organs you need to get a small sample of cells from the injured or diseased organ. Let those cells multiply in a conducive lab environment. Once enough cells are available it is possible to use scaffolds that are coated with those cells to recreate the original organs or parts of it. The scaffolds with the cells on them are then placed under optimal conditions of 37 degrees Celsius and 95% oxygen. Once the cells have grown onto the scaffold it can be implanted. The scaffolds are designed so that they will attract new tissue cells that will replace the scaffold, which will disintegrate after a while. This method has been successfully used with muscles, carotid arteries, and heart valves. And interestingly they had to exercise them while growing them in the lab.

The first engineered organ was the bladder. And it took only 6-8 weeks to grow until it was ready to be implanted in a patient. Among the solid organs that have been created are ears and fingers. The most complex organs to engineer are those that are highly vascularized such as the heart, the liver, and the kidneys.

One strategy used is to print organs. This has been done with a heart chamber that was printed with a regular printer that instead of ink prints cells one layer at a time. Another strategy is to use de-cellularized organs. Take donor organs, take out all the cells, which takes about two weeks and what is left is the structure of the organ that is made up of collagen. This method even keeps the vascular tree intact. And then this skeleton structure will be infused with the organ recipients own cells. This way organs will not be rejected. At the moment this is only experimental but liver functions have already been reproduced in experiments. At the moment these kidneys are small and the work ahead is to increase them to regular size. Kidneys with livers, and hearts are by far the most complex organs inpart because they are highly vascularized.


Atala, A. (Speaker). (2009, October). Anthony Atala on Growing New Organs [Video]. TEDMED Conferences. Retrieved January 21, 2010, from


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