Organ Printing

I was reading Time Healthland’s “5 Discoveries That Will Change the Future of Organ Transplants” when the last one blew my mind. Really really far. It’s 3D printing…of organs. I don’t know where I’ve been for the past few years, but apparently this is technology that they have been working on for quite a while and getting good results as well!

ear(extremetech)

This picture is of the world’s first 3D-printed bionic organ created in February by researchers at Princeton! The article says that the ear is a long ways away from being used in humans, but doesn’t confirm whether that is the end goal of this research. Other researchers, it turns out, are actually working on printing 3D hearts that could be used for transplants.

We think we can do it in 10 years — that we can build, from a patient’s own cells, a total ‘bioficial’ heart.

This sounds really cool on its own, but when you put it into context, you can really see why this is such a great idea and a much-needed device. First, there are over 75,000 active patients waiting for a transplant just in the US. The problem is that the list continues to grow, but there is a great shortage of organ donors. This means that a lot of patients spend too much time waiting and many of them never get to the top of the list. This 3D printing would be a way for doctors to provide on-demand organs to those needing a transplant.

Additionally, many patients who do receive transplant organs have bad reactions to them and end up rejecting the new organ. To combat this, doctors provide anti-rejection drugs. The 3D printing, however, does away with that as well. The new organ will be made of the patient’s very own cells so rejection of the new organ is not a serious possibility.

Finally, the article estimates that the bioficial heart could cost around $100,000 excluding hospital and surgery costs, which is an additional $150,000. They say this is less than a typical heart transplant now, plus the new heart won’t require the anti-rejection drugs. They even say that insurance may even cover the costs if it were federally approved.

While all of that is reason enough to promote this kind of research, this is the part that made me extremely excited:

The ultimate goal is to extract a patient’s fat through liposuction, isolate cells with a machine, mix them with the glue and “print” a heart — all within an hour.

In one hour! You could have a new heart within an hour of you suiting up for the liposuction! So, how do we know this is not too good to be true and that it isn’t all sci-fi? Researchers have already created and implanted parts of hearts into mice and grown ulna bones for rabbits as part of their study.

I am so excited to learn the results of these studies and greatly look forward to hopefully seeing this procedure implemented in hospitals on a regular basis.

Become a Doctor…Easily!

doctor(pinterest)

Everyone knows the Asian stereotype: they are smart and essentially destroy the curves for everyone else. The stereotype may go a bit further for Indians: they’re all either doctors or engineers. I guess the stereotypes stick because Indians don’t do much to suppress it. Being at home for the summer means I get to sit through all of the Indian soap operas as well as the dumb commercials that come with them enforcing this stereotype.

Most of them are annoying, either advertising shows, movies, astrologers and numerologists (that claim they can actually fix all of your problems), and other extreme claims. An ad from the latter category actually made me furious.

It was an ad for some medical university and it started something like this: “Yadi aap doctor banna chahte hai, toh bohaut asaani se ban sakte hai”. Literally translated it comes out to, “If you want to become a doctor, then you can do so very easily!”. I don’t know what you study or what your passion is but this statement has to sound ridiculous to you too. More than ridiculous, I got upset and gave my mother a “is she for real?” look. Here, as a premed student, I’m trying to do everything right to even have a chance at becoming a doctor, and there, a crazy medical university, that may or may not be legit, on the TV is promising an easy road to becoming a doctor to basically everyone.

So, I must be the crazy one, right? I’m busting my butt to keep my grades up, learn unseen material for the MCAT, and do obscene amounts of shadowing, when I could just so simply call this number that keeps flashing on my screen every hour. Maybe next time I hear the infuriating line, I will actually call the school and see exactly what admission to this fairyland entails.

Mind Affects Matter

lost symbolHaving no classes, no exams, no lab reports, no papers means I can finally do some reading that doesn’t include arrow-pushing mechanisms or detailed metabolic pathway diagrams. I have a fairly long list of books I want to read this summer and am making my way through it slowly. A book that was on this list and that I recently finished reading is The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown. Chronologically, this book comes right after The Da Vinci Code and offers a similar style of story – secret society and encoded maps leading to hidden treasure that Robert Langdon must decipher. I enjoyed the story, but the aspect of noetic science introduced in the book interested me a lot more. Having never heard of this discipline, the idea had my attention immediately.

What is noetic science?

The Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS), describes noetic science as

a multidisciplinary field that brings objective scientific tools and techniques together with subjective inner knowing to study the full range of human experiences.

They argue,

the noetic sciences apply a scientific lens to the study of subjective experience and to ways that consciousness may influence the physical world.

In the book, the female protagonist, Katherine Solomon, works with noetic science to answer things like “do humans have souls? Does someone hear our prayers? What happens after death?”. These are not the exact questions IONS works to answer, but IONS’ CEO, Dr. Marilyn Schlitz, has confirmed that they work on some of the same experiments that Katherine works on in her lab in the book.

After reading the book and perusing through IONS’ website, the major idea related to noetic science that I have been able to take away is about the human potential: our consciousness, our thoughts, our inner knowledge, can have a real effect on the outside world.

Connection to Dr. Masaru Emoto

All of this took me back to junior year of high school in ToK (Theory of Knowledge) class where we watched a movie called What the Bleep Do We Know!? I won’t get into the specifics of the movie, but there was one part that I think may have some relation to noetic science. It was a study conducted by a Dr. Masaru Emoto who studied the “beauty” of ice crystals frozen in different conditions. For example, he showed that water exposed to classical music resulted in beautiful crystal whereas water exposed to rock music resulted in “messier” crystals. Similarly, he attached a piece of paper with words and phrases such as “thank you” or “love” to the bottoms of water bottles that resulted in beautiful crystals once again, but those water bottles with words such as “fool you” or “dirty” showed not as pretty crystals.

When I first saw this video and this presentation, I was amazed beyond belief. This shows how our thoughts can actually have an effect on the actual physical world. Of course, the study has its own critiques. As one study points out, there is no control for bias in Dr. Emoto’s study. For example, those who are taking the pictures of the crystals know which test group they belong to. Instead, to make a more credible study, they could determine the “beauty” of the ice crystals without knowing what conditions they were exposed to. This is a fair analysis of the project considering you wouldn’t believe another study, related to biology, chemistry, or any subject, if it didn’t account for some sort of controls. Keeping this in mind, however, I believe it’s important to realize our words, thoughts, etc. can have a real impact that we sometimes are not aware of – just think of all those times you heard that singing to plants makes them grow better!

I think and hope the noetic sciences will continue to grow so similar ideas can keep amazing us.

References and related links:

Theoretical Reality to Reality

snapple (xkcd)

It’s been about 4 weeks since I started working at a research lab and it has been surprisingly enjoyable if slightly frustrating at times. This is my first exposure to lab and research outside of the Grinnell setting and working in this lab has been far more pleasant than the labs that come with the science classes there.

At Grinnell, I used to think 3-hour labs were terrible – I mean, talk to any science student who had to spend so many hours consecutively in one lab especially if it was on a Friday afternoon. So, it makes sense that my first thought about this position was “8-hour labs? I signed up for this? ON PURPOSE?” I was grateful, of course, for being able to work in this lab, but I had my doubts.

My first day came, I arrived earlier than everyone else who was working there, and my anxiety grew. I knew the code to get into the lab, but it didn’t feel in my place to go in there without anyone, so I just waited in the break room and went into the lab only when others had arrived. I didn’t do much most of the day because I didn’t know what was going on. The whole project had been described to me twice by two different people and I was starting to grasp it slowly, but I had a long way to go. I knew the most basic lab techniques – pipetting, maintaining cells, etc., but as it turns out, keeping human cells alive is just a tad different from keeping E. coli cells alive. Go figure, right? Having worked with bacteria so long, it took me a little while to adjust to the whole human cell idea.

That first day, I learned some more basic techniques – subculturing cells and plating them into plates and flasks, not too difficult, but also not particularly time-consuming. I wondered if maintaining cells was all I’d be doing for the whole summer. Fortunately, the answer is a big fat “no”. Since that day four weeks ago, I have learned so many great techniques for working in a bio, biomedical lab, such as isolating plasmid DNA, running a qPCR and western blot, etc., and continue to learn more. After having spent so much time in lab recently, I now realize that while doing real research is more exciting, I need those 3-hour Grinnell lab periods to have SOME idea of how to handle myself in a real lab.