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Body Building
Body on a Bench
  How to Make A Nose
Photo of  Alan and scientist
  Alan works with MIT scientists to create an artificial retina.

As one of the pioneers of tissue engineering, Bob Langer dreams of the day when scientists can build a whole series of replacement parts, so if something breaks, from your nose to your heart, doctors can have a new one on hand in no time. The key, Langer has found, is providing the right environment for cells to do their thing - the right type of structure to grow on, the right nutrients and temperature - all to trick them into behaving as they would inside the body.

Alan is introduced to two fascinating products of Langer's lab at MIT- a nose made from real cartilage, and pieces of heart muscle made with living heart cells, beating away on a polymer "scaffold." While Langer is currently working with animal cells, the hope is that human cells will be available for such work. In the effort to find new, and ethical, ways to provide scientists with such cells, researchers at Advanced Cell Technology show Alan how to take an adult human cell and implant it in an unfertilized egg, allowing it to regain its youth and multiply. Taken from a sick patient, such "home-grown" cells could be used to fight illness without fear of rejection, because a patient's own tissue would be doing the work.

Photo of Nose Cartilage  
This artificial nose, actual cartilage, was made from stem cells.  

Back in Langer's lab, work with animal stem cells is showing promise in building new retinas. Again, scientists start with a polymer scaffold, this time made with tiny pores that mimic an actual retina. Then Alan "seeds" the structure with retinal stem cells, and away they grow. These scientists have implanted just such an artificially produced retina into lab animals and found that the body actually forms connections with the newcomer. It's too soon to say if vision has been improved, but it's an exciting next step toward achieving Langer's dream of the "body shop."

For more on this topic, see the web feature:
Stem Cell 101
Artificial Alan

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