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Forces of Nature

Photo of Naughton
Dr. Gail Naughton

Dr. Gail Naughton, President of Advanced Tissue Sciences, Inc. in La Jolla CA, patented a container called a bioreactor that simulates conditions inside a healthy body, including putting physical stresses on cells as they grow. The result is stronger, more natural tissue.

Photo of Bioreactor
Naughton's bioreactor subjects growing tissues to more natural forces.  

The bioreactor has been evolving since 1989, when it became apparent that cells needed a more sterile environment than a petri dish in which to grow. Naughton eventually designed a bioreactor in which cells were subjected to a constant, unidirectional flow of fluid that brought nutrients in and wastes out. Subjected to this flowing media, the cells lined up in neat rows.

"This is the kind of thing that brings a smile to a scientist's face," says Naughton. "Because that's exactly what happens in the body."

In the bioreactor's most recent incarnation, Naughton cultivates cartilage, heart valves and blood vessels. According to Naughton, valve materials grown in the reactor have double the mechanical strength and secrete more important structural proteins, like collagen and elastin, than do those grown in a petri dish.

  This bioreactor-grown cartilage is stronger than that grown in a petri dish.

Naughton can't help but sound a little proud when she describes how well the bioreactor encourages the growth of blood vessels. It takes two types of tissues to make a blood vessel; smooth muscle cells that ring blood vessels and endothelial cells that line vessels length-wise. In a petri dish, it's difficult to get tissue-engineered cells to orient themselves just right.

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