Developments Towards Human Regeneration, Tissue Engineering, Bionics

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1. Scientists at Oxford University have announced the first long-term trial of a new bionic eye implant.

The technology consists of electrodes that replace the retina at the back of the eye and can treat the degenerative disease retinitis pigmentosa (RP). It is thought 200,000 people worldwide have RP. The trial will start at the John Radcliffe hospital from May. After being fitted, the implant can be removed, meaning it can be upgraded.

2. Human bones are being grown from stem cells in the lab

Dr. Vunjak-Novakovic and her columbia University research team have created and nourished two small bones from scratch in their laboratory. The new bones, part of a joint at the back of the jaw, were created with human stem cells. The shape is based on digital images of undamaged bones.

Engineered bones are being tested in animals and in a few people, and may be common in operating rooms within a decade.

“If we have an anatomically matching scaffold that can host bone cells,” Dr. Lee said, “this will provide a new way of reconstructing bone and cartilage defects.”

The design of the bioreactor is ingenious, said Dr. Vacanti of Boston, because it allows sources of nourishment and other fluids to permeate the pores of the scaffold as new bone grows within the pores. Often, cells make tissue mainly on the outside of a scaffold, while cells inside tend to die. But Dr. Vunjak-Novakovic’s bioreactor permits close observation and control of additives by the research team. “They can direct the flow and monitor the effect on the development of tissue,” Dr. Vacanti said.

3. As previously reported here, there has been a breakthrough along the path to mass producing embryonic stem cells

4. As previously reported, a single gene modification enables mice to regenerate and this genetic modification could provide humans with enhanced healing abilities

5. As previously reported, Organ printing is progressing with 3D bioprinters

6. As previously reported, stem cells are being used to enable faster healing severe bone injuries

7. Negative pressure devices (pumps) are currently used to speed wound healing in hospitals. MIT has made a $3 version of the negative pressure device. It weighs half a pound and can be charged with a hand pump, reduces the need to change bandages from up to three times per day to just once every few days. Similar devices used in hospitals typically weigh 5 to 10 pounds, require an energy source and cost about $100 a day to rent.

Researchers hope that a simple bellows pump attached to a tube that’s applied to a wound dressing can generate enough negative pressure to spur healing. credit: Danielle R. Zurovcik

Negative-pressure devices, which act like a vacuum over the bandaged wound, have become a central part of wound therapy in the United States over the last decade. They speed healing up to threefold, depending on the type of wound, and in some cases eliminate the need for plastic surgery or skin grafts. A number of commercial versions are available in the U.S. and are used to treat burns and chronic wounds such as bed sores or diabetic foot ulcers. While scientists don’t exactly know why this treatment accelerates the healing process, it likely helps by removing some of the fluid and bacteria that accumulates at the injury site and by increasing blood flow to the wound. The pressure itself may also help healing by bringing together the edges of the wound and delivering mechanical pressure, which has been shown to spur cell growth, says Dennis Orgill, a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s who was not involved in the project.

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