Scientists blend organs, add strong soap, and create new bioactive material

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These unique biomaterials may help wounds heal more effectively.

Bioactive “tissue papers” have been invented by scientists and engineers at Northwestern University. The new bioactive materials, which are made by blending up organs, may be used in regenerative medicine to more effectively heal wounds or boost hormone production in young cancer patients.

Developed by members of Ramille Shah’s Tissue Engineering and Additive Manufacturing (TEAM) Lab at Northwestern Medicine, the bioactive papers were initially discovered by accident, as a postdoctoral fellow was trying to apply one of the lab’s 3D-printing techniques to work with specific tissues and organs.

“During my initial attempts to create a 3D-printable formulation made from decellularized ovaries, I spilled a little of the material,” Adam Jakus, the postdoctoral fellow who led the research, told Digital Trends. “The spill rapidly dried into a robust sheet that could be picked up and easily handled. This gave me the idea to pursue this route, and I made similar ‘tissue papers’ from liver, kidney, uterus, muscle, and heart tissues and organs.”

To create the biomaterials, the researchers pick up a handful of organs, such as hearts, kidneys, and livers from their local butcher. Back in the lab, they cut the organs into small cubes, toss them into a blender, add strong soap, and blend the mixture for a few days. This decellularization process removes all the blood so that just the structural proteins are left behind. The result is colorless and shriveled tissue, which the researchers then grind into a powder and form into sheets of paper. When a polymer is added, the paper becomes pliable enough to bend and shape.

The paper maintains proteins found in natural organs, so living cells in the body recognize and accept the paper once it’s implanted. Since each paper has proteins and biochemicals found in the specific organ it is derived from, each sheet is meant to be used in a particular place in the body.

“Each tissue paper type has different applications,” Jakus said. “For example, we are pursuing the use of the muscle tissue paper as a means of repairing or regenerating damaged or missing fine muscle tissue, such as in the face. Another example of use is for the ovary tissue paper to be used as means to maintain the life and function of ovarian tissue and follicles — the female egg unit — in vitro for the purposes of later transplantation.”

In lab trials, paper made from cow ovaries was able to grow cultured ovarian follicles. Paper made from various organs successfully helped grow adult human stem cells. Moving forward the team is looking for funding for further in vitro testing to collect data sufficient for approval by the Food and Drug Administration.

A paper detailing the research was published this week in the journal Advanced Functional Materials.