Future of Lab-Grown Organs is in the Bag
The cell culture bag before (top) and during coating (bottom).
CREDIT: Fraunhofer IST
Today's lab-grown organs or cells intended for patients are developed inside Petri dishes or bottles, which leave them at risk of contamination by bacteria. Tomorrow's artificial organs may be grown inside specially sterilized plastic bags shaped into the specific 3-D structures needed for each body part.
German researchers engineered the sterile new scaffolds for growing human cells by zapping gas-filled plastic bags with electricity to create ionized plasma. The charged plasma ? known as the fourth state of matter ? not only sterilized the bags but also chemically changed the bags' inside surface to make them suitable for human cell growth.
"The advantage of the process is that it operates at atmospheric pressure and is therefore cost-effective, fast and flexible," said Michael Thomas, an engineer at the Fraunhofer Institute for Surface Engineering and Thin Films, in Braunschweig.
Other researchers have experimented with lab-grown organs such as livers and urinary bladders. But the new plastic bags could be ready sooner, replacing Petri dishes used to grow live cells meant for blood transfusions, bone marrow transplants and stem cell therapies.
Contamination of human cell cultures has occurred while opening Petri dishes, bottles or bioreactors to fill them. The new plastic bags solve that problem by allowing researchers to inject cells directly into the bag or use connected tube systems. In addition, the bag holds a nutrient medium suitable for growing human cells.
Such bags could someday grow artificial skin , nerves, cartilage or bone, according to the researchers. As a next step, Braunschweig City Hospital and Germany's University of Tubingen plan to see which plastic surfaces serve as the best homes for growing bone or cartilage from stem cells.