Photographed By Jessica Nash.
Of all the advances in modern medicine, the ability to create human tissue in a laboratory probably has the biggest sci-fi factor. Just last week, scientists implanted a lab-grown trachea in a cancer patient in Eritrea. And, scientists are only years away from being able to produce fully functional livers, lungs, kidneys and hearts with 3-D printers. Things are getting, as they say, pretty real.
Of course, aside from the obvious direct human benefits, there's at least one other reason to be excited about the ability to grow organs in a dish: clinical drug testing. A new project from Los Alamos National Laboratory provides scientists with a "desktop human," complete with a synthetic liver, heart, lung, and kidney. The device, known as the Advanced Tissue-engineered Human Ectypal Network Analyzer (or ATHENA), is designed for mass production and easy use in a lab setting, with each organ about the size of your iPhone's screen. Researchers eventually hope to build a more complex system that integrates body processes like blood flow and metabolism. Click to the next page to see an artist's rendering of ATHENA.
Photo: Courtesy Of Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Of course, an invention like this could completely transform the way scientists go about testing new drugs for safety. With a fully functional replica of a human body at their disposal, researchers can learn exactly how a drug will impact different body systems at the same time, without having to risk giving an untested treatment to a real live human. Even better, systems like ATHENA could eliminate the need to test drugs on animals — at least in theory. Is it just us, or is this a bioethical win-win? (The Verge; Los Alamos National Laboratory)