Honors Colloquium - University of Rhode Island
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Fall 2011 Honors Colloquium

Anthony Atala (October 4)
Making New Organs, Now and in the Future

BIO

Anthony Atala is a surgeon, the Chair of the Department of Urology at the Wake Forest University for Medicine, and the Director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, where he specializes in the growth and regeneration of organs and tissues. He is also the former Director of the Laboratory for Tissue Engineering and Cellular Therapeutics at Children's Hospital Boston.

When Atala joined the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine in 2004, he led the research team that created the first lab-grown organ - a human bladder - to be successfully implanted in a human being. Currently, he is working on growing and printing other organs to eventually reduce the time that transplant patients spend waiting for an organ. He and his team have successfully printed prototype kidneys for this purpose.

Atala has also been successful in harvesting stem cells from the amniotic fluid of pregnant women. Amniotic stem cells can be manipulated to transform into various types of mature cells that make up nerves, muscles, bones and other tissues. These stem cells are able to thrive for years and can be used to grow new tissues and organs when damaged ones are in need of replacement. They are easier to grow than embryonic stem cells and avoid the ethical concerns that are associated with embryonic stem cell research. Atala believes that, "A bank of 100,000 specimens of the amniotic stem cells theoretically could supply 99% of the US population with perfect genetic matches for transplants."

Atala's lecture will address the implications of organ and tissue regeneration, as well as consider what the future of synthetic organs will bring.

 

ABOUT THIS LECTURE

Today there are many more people awaiting organs than there are organs available from donors. People are dying as a result. And the problem is only going to get worse in the future as the number of organs required grows at a much faster rate than the number of donors. Dr. Anthony Atala, a leading researcher in the field of regenerative medicine, is exploring a variety of approaches to making human organs in the lab for transplant into those with failing organs. In this presentation, he will discuss where the field of regenerative medicine is going in the context of the approaches that he is exploring. Possibly the most intriguing of these is the use of a device that his lab has built based on the principle of an ink-jet printer. Instead of ink in the printer that he has built, Atala uses human cells and he quite literally prints human organs. To do so, he extracts cells from the patient and, using the extracted cells as seeds, grows many more in the lab. He then mixes the cells with a chemical that turns into a gel when it comes into contact with water. He places this mixture in the 'ink' cartridge of the printer that he has built. The ink-jet mechanism of the printer prints a layer of cells onto a petri dish containing water, which with the chemical additive, turns the water into a gel. The dish is then moved down a fraction of an inch and a second layer is printed. This continues until the organ is complete. The printing process is designed in such a way that the cells are able to create various shapes in each layer. In this way, Atala is able to create blood vessels and other essential organ components as he prints it such that once complete he has a functioning organ. Furthermore, because the organ has been made with the patient's cells this approach avoids problems of rejection associated with donor supplied organs. At this time, printed organs have not been used in humans; Atala is still developing the technique and significant work remains before the approach is ready for to be tested in patients. Previous to the printing of organs, Atala has artificially grown organs using human tissue. For example, he was the first to successfully create a bladder in the laboratory and place it into a human.

HELPFUL LINKS

Anthony Atala's Profile
Anthony Atala's profile on the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine website

TED Talk
Anthony Atala's TED Talk on lab-grown organs

TED Talk
Anthony Atala's TED Talk on printing a human kidney

Singularity Hub Article
An article about Anthony Atala's work on the Singularity Hub