Scientists Fold Organ-based 'Tissue Paper' Into Origami

iStock
iStock

So long, glitter slime. The newest thing in gross arts and crafts is so much better: Researchers have transformed real organ and muscle cells into flexible "tissue paper" that could help surgeons patch wounds and even regrow damaged hearts, ovaries, and lungs. The team described their remarkable creation in the journal Advanced Functional Materials.

Lead author and bioengineer Adam Jakus of Northwestern University hit upon the idea after witnessing a very strange chemical spill in the lab. Jakus had been trying to concoct 3D ink that would allow him to print ovaries. The container of cell-filled fluid overturned, and by the time Jakus reached it, the ink had dried into a flat sheet.

"When I tried to pick it up, it felt strong," Jakus said in a statement. "The light bulb went on in my head. I could do this with other organs."

As Jakus explains in the video below, his first stop was the butcher shop.

The research team made their paper from six kinds of cow or pig tissue: ovary, uterus, kidney, liver, heart, and muscle. The paper contains the scaffolding, or structure, of each tissue type—an encouraging environment in which new, healthy cells can flourish.

And grow they did. Flexible, foldable tissue paper treated with human bone marrow cells became a bustling nursery for the cells. After four weeks, all the original cells had attached and reproduced.

"That’s a good sign that the paper supports human stem cell growth," Jakus said. "It’s an indicator that once we start using tissue paper in animal models it will be biocompatible."

Surgeon and engineer Ramille Shah oversaw the research and was the corresponding author on the journal article. She says the tissue paper has the potential to work as a "very sophisticated Band-Aid" for damaged organs and other parts.

Reproductive scientist Teresa Woodruff tested the paper in her lab as well. She found that paper made with ovarian tissue could be used to grow functional, hormone-producing cells.

"This could provide another option to restore normal hormone function to young cancer patients who often lose their hormone function as a result of chemotherapy and radiation," she said.

Jakus said it's "really amazing" that we could someday turn animal byproducts into life-saving surgical materials. "I'll never look at a steak or pork tenderloin the same way again."

Do Dogs Understand What You’re Telling Them? Scientists Are Scanning Their Brains to Find Out

iStock/kozorog
iStock/kozorog

We all know that dogs can learn to respond to human words, but it’s not always clear what’s happening in a dog’s brain when they hear and recognize words like “cookie” and “fetch.” Do they have to rely on other clues, like gestures, to figure out what we mean by that word? Do they picture a dog biscuit when you say “cookie,” or just the sensation of eating? In a new study, scientists from Emory University and the New College of Florida tried to get to the bottom of this question by training dogs to associate certain objects with words like “blue” and “duck,” then using fMRI brain scanners to see what was happening in the dogs’ heads when they heard that word.

The study, published in Frontiers in Neuroscience, examined the brains of 12 different dogs of various breeds (you can see them below) that had been trained to associate two different objects with random words like “duck,” “blue,” and “beach ball.” Those two objects, which were different for each dog, were brought by the dogs’ owners from home or chosen from a selection of dog toys the researchers compiled. One object had to be soft, like a stuffed animal, and the other one had to be something hard, like a rubber toy or squeaky toy, to make sure the dogs could clearly distinguish between the two. The dogs were trained for several months to associate these objects with their specific assigned words and to fetch them on command.

Then, they went into the fMRI machine, where they had been trained to sit quietly during scanning. The researchers had the dogs lie in the machine while their owners stood in front of them, saying the designated name for the toys and showing them the objects. To see how the dogs responded to unknown words, they also held up new objects, like a hat, and referred to them by gibberish words.

Dogs in a science lab with toys
Prichard et al., Frontiers in Neuroscience (2018]

The results suggest that dogs can, in fact, discriminate between words they know and novel words. While not all the dogs showed the same neural response, they showed activation in different regions of their brains when hearing the familiar word versus the novel one.

Some of the dogs showed evidence of a greater neural response in the parietotemporal cortex, an area of the dog brain believed to be similar to the human angular gyrus, the region of the brain that allows us to process the words we hear and read. Others showed more neural activity in other regions of the brain. These differences might be due to the fact that the study used dogs of different sizes and breeds, which could mean differences in their abilities.

The dogs did show a surprising trend in their brains’ response to new words. “We expected to see that dogs neurally discriminate between words that they know and words that they don’t,” lead author Ashley Prichard of Emory University said in a press release. “What's surprising is that the result is opposite to that of research on humans—people typically show greater neural activation for known words than novel words." This could be because the dogs were trying extra hard to understand what their owners were saying.

The results don’t prove that talking to your dog is the best way to get its attention, though—it just means that they may really know what's coming when you say, "Want a cookie?"

Scientists Find Fossil of 150-Million-Year-Old Flesh-Eating Fish—Plus a Few of Its Prey

M. Ebert and T. Nohl
M. Ebert and T. Nohl

A fossil of an unusual piranha-like fish from the Late Jurassic period has been unearthed by scientists in southern Germany, Australian news outlet the ABC reports. Even more remarkable than the fossil’s age—150 million years old—is the fact that the limestone deposit also contains some of the fish’s victims.

Fish with chunks missing from their fins were found near the predator fish, which has been named Piranhamesodon pinnatomus. Aside from the predator’s razor-sharp teeth, though, it doesn’t look like your usual flesh-eating fish. It belonged to an extinct order of bony fish that lived at the time of the dinosaurs, and until now, scientists didn’t realize there was a species of bony fish that tore into its prey in such a way. This makes it the first flesh-eating bony fish on record, long predating the piranha. 

“Fish as we know them, bony fishes, just did not bite flesh of other fishes at that time,” Dr. Martina Kölbl-Ebert, the paleontologist who found the fish with her husband, Martin Ebert, said in a statement. “Sharks have been able to bite out chunks of flesh, but throughout history bony fishes have either fed on invertebrates or largely swallowed their prey whole. Biting chunks of flesh or fins was something that came much later."

Kölbl-Ebert, the director of the Jura Museum in Eichstätt, Germany, says she was stunned to see the bony fish’s sharp teeth, comparing it to “finding a sheep with a snarl like a wolf.” This cunning disguise made the fish a fearful predator, and scientists believe the fish may have “exploited aggressive mimicry” to ambush unsuspecting fish.

The fossil was discovered in 2016 in southern Germany, but the find has only recently been described in the journal Current Biology. It was found at a quarry where other fossils, like those of the Archaeopteryx dinosaur, have been unearthed in the past.

[h/t the ABC]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER