Scientists claim that the tissues used by our organs are spun the same way the candy machine spins candy. The structure of a cotton candy is quite similar to the microscopic structure of fibrous tissues that comprise of our organs and bones. This is why, according to this report, a $40 candy machine has been modified to spin artificial limbs and organs. If this works out the way the scientists involved want, this new invention could be the gateway to printing three-dimensional artificial organs on demand.
The above-linked report refers to an article published in the Advanced Healthcare Materials journal about an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Vanderbilt University, Leon Bellan who claims that he was able to create a glatinous cube of artificial capillaries with a modified cotton candy machine. The microfluidic channels of the cube remained alive for a week under the professor’s care. This technique may help one day print 3-D artificial organs for those who need them, on demand.
In the interview Leon Bellan said, “Some people in the field think this approach is a little crazy. But now we have shown we can use this simple technique to make microfluidic networks that mimic the three-dimensional capillary system in the human body in a cell-friendly fashion. Generally, it’s not that difficult to make two-dimensional networks, but adding the third dimension is much harder; with this approach, we can make our system as three-dimensional as we like.”
How does this work? In order to understand this, you need to know how a cotton candy works. I can either ask you to visit the original link above or write the text as it is because there is nothing much to change. In order to create candy, the cotton candy machine first melts down sugar, then through multiple tiny holes in the spinning centrifuge, it squeezes out the molten sugar while rotating with great speed. After coming out, the very thin strands of molten sugar re-solidify. You can consider these re-solidified strands as capillaries. In our bodies these capillaries are used to supply blood and other nutrients to bones, organs and other parts of the body.
Previously, scientists have tried to replicate such capillaries using a technique called electro-spinning, but this technique is slow as well is inefficient besides the quality of the strand produced is not great. Remember that while being thin, these strands need to be strong and durable to carry the material they need to carry. The capillaries that are needed to create artificial organs need to be around 10 µm wide whereas the ones being made by previous experiments were 10 times bigger than the new ones. The technique used by new scientists shrinks artificial capillaries down to 3 µm with very fine resolution.
The cotton candy analogy was often used to describe the construction of electorspun fibres and this is what gave Bellan the idea of purchasing a cotton candy machine and using it to spin material for artificial organs.