Adding a page to the book of regenerative medicine that is all about treating body parts and repair of tissues with engineered alternatives, scientists at the University of Ottawa have demonstrated that human tissues can be grown on apples.
In technical terms, this type of tissue development is known as biohacking. Andrew Pelling, who is heading the Pelling Laboratory at Ottawa University's Laboratory for Biophysical Manipulation, has been spearheading research to go beyond the possibilities of genetic and chemical manipulation of cells.
Pelling's objective was to study the behavior of cells when physical surroundings change. The method was successfully tested on lab mice by injecting the cellulose scaffolding under its skin. Currently, it is in the developmental stage, and the method is yet to be used in human beings.
The study has been published in PLOS One.
The new strides in biohacking are demonstrated at Pelling's lab, where an ear enclosed in a dish on a sheet-metal is on display. It could be mistaken for a human ear, but in reality, it is an apple carved in the shape of an ear.
Making The Apple Ready
Good preparation goes into making the apple grow human tissues. Removing cellulose is the first part to populate the human tissues.
To extricate the cellular material, apple is bathed in boiling water and liquid dish soap to break open the apple's cells. When the apple's cellular material is gorged out, rigid cellulose scaffolding remains, to which the mammalian cells are appropriately packed.
"Biohacking is the new gardening," notes Pelling.
The new method is inspiring scientists to grow human tissues not only on apples but in other plant products as well. More options will mean regenerative medicine getting a fresh leg up with more scaffolds to graft skin and bone.
This open-source approach is cost effective because no proprietary host is sought, and a biomaterial such as an apple is quite cheap and readily available. That makes a cost difference of shelling out $1,000 versus a few pennies for a scaffold.
In creating alternatives for body tissues, the traditional focus has been on animals. There was obvious reluctance to leverage the plant kingdom despite its flexibility to offer a wide variety of architectures that can handle the requirements of human physiology.
For doctors, the challenge has been creating organs using the right materials that can grow new cells in the desired shape and structure.
Polymer vs Collagen
In open-source biohacking, collagen structures are prepared to colonize the proprietary cells of a patient by scrapping the dependence on polymer molds.
That takes away the big cost burden induced by organic biomaterials that are manmade and commercially produced by companies.
"This kind of exploratory work is important, because it expands the toolkit," commented Jeffery Karp, a biomaterials expert at Harvard Medical School.
He said fundamental discoveries like this would provide better options for practitioners of translational medicine.
The experiments at Pelling Lab are also buoyed by the support of Canada's somewhat-liberal regulatory regime in health care. The regulatory climate is a bit different from the scene in Europe and the United States, where resistance is high against genetically modified organisms.
Canada encourages biohacking for possible applications in medicine.
Pelling, on his part, is trying to broad base the methods for involving the general public in the experiments. His vision is that by merely tweeting the experiments to the lab and working on do-it-yourself projects from home, the public should contribute to biohacking by working on their own equipment and biomaterials around them.
"Imagine people set up cell cultures the same way they donate computer power to SETI," adds Pelling.
Hitachi Chemicals Takes Over Regenerative Company
Meanwhile, Japan's Hitachi Chemical will acquire PCT, a leading American company in regenerative medicine.
The Asian company will expand its equity base from the existing 19.9 percent to take the remaining 80.1 percent from Caladrius Biosciences to make the U.S. company a wholly owned subsidiary.
Hitachi Chemical plans to produce cells used in treatments for cancer and other diseases at a new Yokohama facility for rapid international expansion.