Fascinating article re-blogged from the BBC website and written by Joe Miller
Miniature human organs developed with a modified 3D printer are being used to test new vaccines in a lab in the US.
The “body on a chip” project replicates human cells to print structures which mimic the functions of the heart, liver, lung and blood vessels.
The organs are then placed on a microchip and connected with a blood substitute, allowing scientists to closely monitor specific treatments.
The US Department of Defense has backed the new technology with $24m (£15m).
Bioprinting, a form of 3D printing which, in effect, creates human tissue, is not new. Nor is the idea of culturing 3D human tissue on a microchip.Dr Anthony AtalaWake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine
But the tests being carried out at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine in North Carolina are the first to combine several organs on the same device, which then model the human response to chemical toxins or biologic agents.
The modified 3D printers, developed at Wake Forest, print human cells in hydrogel-based scaffolds.
The lab-engineered organs are then placed on a 2in (5cm) chip and linked together with a circulating blood substitute, similar to the type used in trauma surgery.
The blood substitute keeps the cells alive and can be used to introduce chemical or biologic agents, as well as potential therapies, into the system.
Sensors which measure real-time temperature, oxygen levels, pH and other factors feed back information on how the organs react and – crucially – how they interact with each other.
Dr Anthony Atala, institute director at Wake Forest and lead investigator on the project, said the technology would be used both to “predict the effects of chemical and biologic agents and to test the effectiveness of potential treatments”.Miniature tissue samples can be exposed to toxins as well as potential treatments
“You are actually testing human tissue,” he explained.
“It works better than testing on animals.”
A group of experts from around the US is involved in putting together the technology, which will carry out toxicity testing and identification.
The funding for the project was awarded by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), a division of the US government which combats nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.
The tests being carried out at Wake Forest “would significantly decrease the time and cost needed to develop medical countermeasures” for bioterrorism attacks, said Dr Clint Florence, acting branch chief of vaccines within the Translational Medical Division at DTRA.
Wake Forest said it was able to test for antidotes to sarin gas, recently used against civilians in Syria.
Dr Atala, whose field is regenerative medicine, said the bioprinting technology was first used at Wake Forest for building tissues and organs for replacement in patients.
His team had managed to replicate flat organs, such as skin, tubular organs such as blood vessels, and even hollow non-tubular organs like the bladder and the stomach, which have more complex structures and functions.
But building solid organs like the heart and the liver is the hardest challenge yet.A combination microscope and incubator is used to image tissue over time
It takes about 30 minutes just to print a miniature kidney or heart, which is the size of a small biscuit.
“There are so many cells per centimetre that making a big organ is quite complex,” Dr Atala told the BBC.
But the bioprinting of full size solid organs might not be far away.
“We are working on creating solid organ implants,” said Dr Atala.
Read more about how bio-printing works here
The Pitt Rivers is a museum that showcases a truly incredible selection of anthropological and archaeological objects collected over the last 125 years by the University of Oxford.
Gaining access to the museum is a surreal experience. Situated behind Oxford’s Natural History Museum, the only way to enter the Pitt River’s is to navigate through taxidermied animals and prehistoric skeletons. Located at the back of the building is an understated doorway which leads to this cavern of miscellaneous human relics.
Walking through taxideremied animals and skeletons of dinosaurs you are meeted by where at the back of the building there is an understated door way.
Once in the new museum you are met with three floors of iron verandas and countless Victorian glass boxes filled with artifacts from all over the world. Rather than being exhibited by age or geographical origin, the objects are grouped together by function.
The categories are organised into areas in their vaguest terms about marriage, death, decoration, toys, weapons, religion, magic, music, body art, clothing, food, travel, survival and so on. One of the most popular collections of artifacts is the ‘Treatment of the Dead Enemies’ which hosts a variety of shrunken heads.
The shrunken heads, or tsantsas , in the display on the ‘Treatment of Dead Enemies’ case at the Pitt Rivers Museum are from the Upper Amazon region of South America between Peru and Ecuador. They were made by the Shuar, Achuar, Huambisa, and Aguaruna peoples; distinct tribes with similar cultures. These peoples live in densely forested jungle; the women grow manioc, maize, beans, squash, and tobacco, and the men hunt and fish.
Traditionally, men from these tribes were encouraged to take enemy heads to prove their courage and manhood, and to avenge the death of a relative. While feuding might occur even between villages with fairly close kinship ties, heads were not taken in such situations. Where a raid took place on a closely related group, the heads of sloths or monkeys would be substituted for human heads. The Museum’s display includes the shrunken heads of sloths and red howler monkeys.
Making a shrunken head was done by removing the skin from the skull. The skull and brain were thrown away. The skin was boiled briefly and then dried with hot pebbles and sand. The features were preserved by shaping the skin with hot pebbles as the skin dried. The eyes and mouth were closed with cotton string, and the face blackened with vegetable dye. The head was then strung on a cord so it could be worn at a ritual feast by the man who had taken it.
Making a shrunken head was part of a ritual in which the spirit of the victim (one of three souls these people believe humans have and which they believe resides in the head) was pacified and the victim was made part of the killer’s group. The head was addressed by kinship terms during the feasts held for this spirit. The rituals thus serve to link enemies and the living and the dead. Since these peoples believed that human bodily shapes exist in limited numbers, and that they thus must be re-used by future generations, capturing an enemy’s head and adopting that person into one’s group provided an extra, symbolic body for one’s own descendants to inhabit. After the rituals, the head might be kept: some men were buried with heads they had taken. However, the making of shrunken heads and the rituals held for them were more important than keeping the head.
British explorers collected shrunken heads because they saw them as exotic curiosities. The tsantsas in this case were collected between 1871 and 1936. There was such demand for shrunken heads by museums and private collectors that some were made for sale from the heads of people who had died of natural causes. Many of the substitute heads made from monkeys and sloths were also sold. It is sometimes difficult to tell apart ‘genuine’, substitute, and fake tsantsas , but those used in rituals were very carefully prepared, and such steps as singing off facial hair may be omitted in creating a head for sale; likewise, the ornaments on a head made for sale may be those of the tribe of the maker rather than of the Shuar or Achuar people.
The tribal peoples who made these tsantsas no longer take or shrink the heads of enemies. This practice ended by the 1960s. They still live in their homelands by hunting, fishing, and horticulture as they always have, and fight against development and its effects upon them instead of against enemy tribes. (source)
The Pitt River’s can be found at
South Parks Road
Oxford OX1 3PP
And it’s opening times are 10.00 – 16.30 Tuesday to Sunday
(and bank holiday Mondays)
12.00 – 16.30 Monday
His vision, from the constantly passing bars,
has grown so weary that it cannot hold
anything else. It seems to him there are
a thousand bars; and behind the bars, no world.
As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,
the movement of his powerful soft strides
is like a ritual dance around a center
in which a mighty will stands paralyzed.
Only at times, the curtain of the pupils
lifts, quietly–. An image enters in,
rushes down through the tensed, arrested muscles,
plunges into the heart and is gone.
On Sunday morning in Berlin, in collaboration with the Freie Universität, I attended a strange event.
On the basis of John Cage’s scores Branches (for amplified plant sounds and 4 performers, 1976) and Inlets (for water-filled conch shells and 3 performers, 1977), several artists created their respective instruments and performed for hours in a massive greenhouse. Those “instruments” were plants, preferably cacti, which were touched, plucked and “played”, as well as water-filled conch shells of different sizes, tipped in order to produce gurgling sounds.
Herbert Draper is well known for interpreting mythological stories into paintings and here he has adapted the legend of Icarus in a truly lavish manner. Draper was inspired by the wings of the birds of paradise when painting this overwhelming piece of art at the turn of the century. To me this painting encompasses the Pre Raphaelite/Symbolist feeling of living fast, dying young and leaving a beautiful corpse in all its extravagant glory.
The Lament for Icarus is currently on display at the Tate Britain in London.