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Engineering Living Body Parts

That’s the name of a fascinating talk this afternoon in Davos given by Linda Griffith, professor of biological and mechanical engineering at MIT. Just her job title tells you a lot about the extraordinary developments in this arena–and her Biological Engineering Department is the first new undergraduate department at MIT in 40 years.

That’s the name of a fascinating talk this afternoon in Davos given by Linda Griffith, professor of biological and mechanical engineering at MIT. Just her job title tells you a lot about the extraordinary developments in this arena–and her Biological Engineering Department is the first new undergraduate department at MIT in 40 years.

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Griffith discussed the work of Tony Atala, who was one of Fast Company‘s Fast 50 last year. Atala has been growing functioning bladders by placing living bladder tissue on a sort of scaffolding. The scaffolds used for this sort of organ growth, and in other applications such as growing cartilage, are highly complex structures. One thing that came as interesting news to me is that biological engineers are turning to another technology we’ve mentioned in the magazine, 3D printing. These devices follow computer instructions to lay down layers of a powdered substance, eventually creating a solid object. You can use pretty much anything that can be turned into a powder, making these machines potentially very useful for building the scaffolds that could be the basis for engineered body parts. How cool is that?

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