A Scientist Is 3D Printing Blood Vessels for Sick Children

3D-Printed Medical Magic

Since it was introduced, 3D-printing technology has taken the world by storm. From disrupting the fashion industry to shaking up traditional home construction, 3D printing is fabricating a path for itself into modern society. Even the medical community is warming up to the new technology, as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded a $211,000 Exploratory/Developmental Research Grant to an engineer at the University of Texas at Arlington to develop 3D-printable materials for developing new blood vessels for children.

Bioprinting: How 3D Printing is Changing Medicine
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Engineer Yi Hong, in partnership with Guohao Dai of Northeastern University, is setting his sights on fighting vascular defects in children. Children are more difficult to treat than adults because their bodies grow much quicker than any graft, meaning that these grafts are in need of constant replacement with multiple invasive surgeries.

In light of this problem, the bioengineering duo is attempting to create a range of 3D-printed materials that can be transformed into flexible, patient-specific blood vessels. These materials can then be mixed with human cells to create a fixture among biological blood vessels. Their elasticity could significantly improve the lives of children with vascular defects who currently need multiple invasive surgeries per graft. The printed blood vessels might also reduce the risk of thrombosis compared to that posed by traditional grafts.

Potential Impact

There are many types of vascular abnormalities that affect children. Some examples include aneurysms, which are sacs that can form on arteries in the brain; arteriovenous malformations, which are tangles of thin, easily ruptured vessels in the brain or spinal cord; and moyamoya disease, which blocks blood flow to the brain due to constricted arteries. These conditions can cause symptoms such as headaches, seizures, and even coma. With today’s therapies, children with vascular defects have it extremely rough — but if Hong’s project can accomplish its goals, things could get better.

Hong is confident in his project, and his history in raising $850,000 in funds from grants for his past projects further supports that claim. Hong’s method is ambitious, but his potential success will further solidify 3D printing’s role in medicine, encouraging other medical scientists to think outside the box while helping improve the quality of people’s lives.

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New Bio-Sensing Contact Lenses Will Utterly Transform Our Lives

Bio-sensing Contact Lens

Using ultra-thin transistor technology, researchers from Oregon State University have found a way to design contact lenses capable of registering information about the wearer’s physiological state.

The prototype thus far is only able to detect blood glucose levels, but that could be particularly useful for many patients, particularly those who are diabetic. If the lenses can actively detect physiological changes — like a rise or drop in blood sugar — and subsequently alert the wearer, the implications as a medical device would be clear.

The researchers developed a biosensor with transparent sheet of IGZO transistors and glucose oxidase as a prototype. The mechanism of the biosensor would ideally function by the enzyme oxidizing the blood sugar when it comes into contact with it. This would cause a shift in PH levels which would in turn elicit a change in the electrical current flowing through the transistors. That means the sensors would ideally be able to detect even the smallest levels of glucose concentrations, which are present in tears.

Noninvasive Diagnostic Device

These futuristic contact lenses are still very much in the prototype phase, though the researchers hope to complete animal testing in the coming year. Even though they won’t be hitting pharmacy shelves anytime soon, given that researchers have access to the technology they need to create their noninvasive diagnostic device, the turnaround could be quick in the grand scheme of development, clinical trials, and approval. Beyond just making it available with glucose-detecting capabilities, researchers are optimistic that it will be able to one day be used to monitor other medical conditions, and perhaps even detect cancer.

Speaking to Gizmodo, Gregory Herman notes that:

There is a fair amount of information that can be monitored in a teardrop. Of course, there is glucose, but also lactate (sepsis, liver disease), dopamine (glaucoma), urea (renal function), and proteins (cancers). Our goal is to expand from a single sensor to multiple sensors.

While the sensors are in development, researchers haven’t yet managed to attach them to the contact lenses. But the biomedical tech industry is already abuzz with interest: the researchers have published their work in several journals, including Nanoscale, and have presented at theNational Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society.

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A Tumor-Zapping Electric Cap Doubled the Survival Rate of Cancer Patients

Wearable Cancer Treatment

A concept that seems almost purely science fiction may actually be an effective therapy for combating cancer. A five-year clinical trial by Novocure Ltd. provided researchers with evidence that an electric skull cap designed to zap cancer cells growing in the brains of its wearers might actually work.

The cap, called Optune, is essentially a portable power supply that works by sending an alternating range of frequencies to the brains of cancer patients. The frequencies produced by the device are known as tumor treatment fields (TTFields), and they work by disrupting the mutated cell division process that enables cancer cells to grow. More specifically, the electric charges prevent chromosomes (the genetic information needed for cellular development) from lining up before cellular division, making the disruption fatal to cells. Patients are expected to wear the cap for at least 18 hours every day, while also taking a standard chemotherapy drug known as temozolomide. Other than a slight warming sensation, the caps have not demonstrated any side effects or interruptions to patient’s day-to-day activities.

It’s important to note that this treatment is only viable with glioblastomas, which are tumors of the brain or spine. The treatment only works in these parts of the body because most cells in the brain are not dividing. That means the electric disruption from the Optune cap would only be affecting cells that are dividing — meaning cancer cells.

The Future of Medicine

According to the data collected from a five-year, phase III clinical trial held from July 2009 to November 2014, the survival rate of glioblastoma patients improved from 5 percent to 13 percent—more than double the original survival rate without the Optune cap.

The research trial involved 695 newly diagnosed patients with glioblastoma multiforme, an aggressive form of brain cancer. While the medical community was excited to learn the news, the unconventional new therapy comes at a price of around $700 a day. The good news is, many U.S. insurers are covering the FDA approved caps. The company that funded the research, Novocure, is also looking into a similar form of therapy with aggressive pancreatic cancer.

While it doesn’t work in as short as eleven days, or solves problems with just a pill, the Optune cap is an extraordinary piece of technology and yet another reminder that we’re already living in the future.

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A New Drug May Be Able to Completely Reverse Diabetes

Defining Diabetes

In the global community, the number of people with diabetes has been on the rise since 1980, with 422 million people diagnosed by 2014. The U.S. alone has experienced a substantial rise in the incidence of diabetes, with the number of Americans diagnosed increasing from 5.5 million in 1980, to 22 million in 2014—a more than 300 percent increase in less than 40 years.

A team of researchers, led by Stephanie Stanford at the University of California, San Diego, is proposing a solution in the form of a single pill that aims to restore insulin sensitivity in diabetic patients. Type 2 diabetes develops when the body’s response to insulin, the hormone responsible for regulating sugar in our blood, weakens. A number of genetic and lifestyle factors will influence whether or not someone develops this type of diabetes in their lifetime.

Up until now, drugs were unable to restore the insulin signaling function in diabetic patients — instead, they work by filtering out excess glucose in the blood that comes as a result of the dysfunction. The drug produced by Stanford’s team, on the other hand, hopes to restore function.

Restoring Function

The drug inhibits an enzyme called low molecular weight protein tyrosine phosphatase (LMPTP), which is suspected to contribute to the reduction in cell sensitivity to insulin. With reduced LMPTP activity, the drug reenables insulin receptors on the surface of cells — particularly those in the liver — which in turn restores the cell’s ability to regulate excess sugar. When the body can once again regulate blood sugar levels, the condition of Type 2 diabetes is effectively reversed.

The researchers fed lab mice a high-fat diet that made them obese, which subsequently caused them to develop high blood glucose levels. The drug was given to the mice on a daily basis and successfully restored insulin sensitivity without producing any adverse side effects.

While the mouse trial’s results are exciting, the team must continue testing the drug for safety, so human clinical trials are still some time away. But Stanford is confident that the drug “could lead to a new therapeutic strategy for treating type 2 diabetes,”

While we have seen diabetes reversal in patients before, it has never been achieved through medication alone. So, if this drug is approved for use in humans it would be a truly revolutionary treatment.

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