A team at University College London is taking cues from arachnids in the search for ways of creating new body parts.
The technique, called “electrospinning,” is similar to the way a spider spins its web. Electrospinning could replace some of the current methods of creating lab-grown organs, some of which start with either a synthetic or protein scaffold around which the recipient patient’s own cells are seeded and then grown. While electrospinning is not capable of creating a brand new organ from scratch, it could be used to patch malfunctioning organs. For example, it could be used to improve the performance of a patient’s heart following a heart attack.
A 10,000 volt needle is used to create a fiber from a “broth” of cells and polymer. So far, the process has created mouse blood vessels with three distinct layers. As Dr. Suwan Jayasinghe, one of the researchers involved, explained to the BBC, “like a spider weaves its web, we are able to draw out this continuous fiber of polymer and cells and weave a web. We could make one as thick as a mattress and the cells will be embedded right through it.”
Other body part-building techniques include a version of 3-D printing organs, like kidneys. Recently, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh created lab-grown human heart tissue capable of beating on its own.