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We Can Print Human Skin Now

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This may be technology at its coolest. Or grossest. Or both. We’d say both. Scientists in Madrid have figured out a way to produce functional sheets of human skin using a 3D printer. They published their results in the journal Biofabrication.

Scientists have really seized 3D printing as a solution to all kinds of problems. In the last few years, they’ve developed techniques for printing cardiac stents, artificial rat models to spare real rats from dissection—even human jawbones and ears. Other researchers have been hard at work growing human skin in the laboratory.

The team in Madrid decided to put the two concepts together. As you can imagine, this was not a simple matter of loading up the ink and hitting a button. The team built a brand-new type of bioprinter that uses human plasma as a medium, or scaffolding.

Co-author Juan Francisco del Cañizo is a surgeon at Madrid’s Hospital General Universitario Gregorio Marañón. He said it was tricky to create an automated process that could create a friendly environment for skin to grow. “Knowing how to mix the biological components, in what conditions to work with them so that the cells don’t deteriorate, and how to correctly deposit the product is critical to the system,” he told The Independent.

The printed skin includes the same functional layers as the home-grown variety: a tough, epidermis-like outer layer; a thick middle layer; and a layer of collagen-producing cells to make the skin stretchy and strong.

The research team believes their new skin printer has huge potential for helping burn patients and other people who need skin grafts. The printer could include the patients' own cells in the plasma medium, which would significantly decrease the odds that their bodies would reject the new skin.

Animal advocates see the skin as a chance to put an end to cosmetic companies’ animal testing, which currently relies on rabbits, guinea pigs, mice, and dogs as surrogates for human skin.

A bioengineering firm called the BioDan Group has already expressed an interest in mass-producing the skin printers.

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Animals
Owning a Dog May Add Years to Your Life, Study Shows
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We've said that having a furry friend can reduce depression, promote better sleep, and encourage more exercise. Now, research has indicated that caring for a canine might actually extend your lifespan.

Previous studies have shown that dog owners have an innate sense of comfort and increased well-being. A new paper published in Scientific Reports and conducted by Uppsala University in Sweden looked at the health records of 3.4 million of the country's residents. These records typically include personal data like marital status and whether the individual owns a pet. Researchers got additional insight from a national dog registry providing ownership information. According to the study, those with a dog for a housemate were less likely to die from cardiovascular disease or any other cause during the study's 12-year duration.

The study included adults 40 to 80 years old, with a mean age of 57. Researchers found that dogs were a positive predictor in health, particularly among singles. Those who had one were 33 percent less likely to die early than those who did not. Authors didn't conclude the exact reason behind the correlation: It could be active people are more likely to own dogs, that dogs promoted more activity, or that psychological factors like lowered incidences of depression might bolster overall well-being. Either way, having a pooch in your life could mean living a longer one.

[h/t Bloomberg]

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Live Smarter
Not Sure About Your Tap Water? Here's How to Test for Contaminants
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In the wake of Flint, Michigan's water crisis, you may have begun to wonder: Is my tap water safe? How would I know? To put your mind at ease—or just to satisfy your scientific curiosity—you can find out exactly what's in your municipal water pretty easily, as Popular Science reports. Depending on where you live, it might even be free.

A new water quality test called Tap Score, launched on Kickstarter in June 2017, helps you test for the most common household water contaminants for $120 per kit. You just need to take a few samples, mail them to the lab, and you'll get the results back in 10 days, telling you about lead levels, copper and cadmium content, arsenic, and other common hazardous materials that can make their way into water via pipes or wells. If you're mostly worried about lead, you can get a $40 test that only tells you about the lead and copper content of your water.

In New York State, a free lead-testing program will send you a test kit on request that allows you to send off samples of your water to a state-certified lab for processing, no purchase required. A few weeks later, you'll get a letter with the results, telling you what kind of lead levels were found in your water. This option is great if you live in New York, but if your state doesn't offer free testing (or only offers it to specific locations, like schools), there are other budget-friendly ways to test, too.

While mailing samples of your water off to a certified lab is the most accurate way to test your water, you can do it entirely at home with inexpensive strip tests that will only set you back $10 to $15. These tests aren't as sensitive as lab versions, and they don't test for as many contaminants, but they can tell you roughly whether you should be concerned about high levels of toxic metals like lead. The strip tests will only give you positive or negative readings, though, whereas the EPA and other official agencies test for the concentration of contaminants (the parts-per-billion) to determine the safety of a water source. If you're truly concerned with what's in your water, you should probably stick to sending your samples off to a professional, since you'll get a more detailed report of the results from a lab than from a colored strip.

In the future, there will likely be an even quicker way to test for lead and other metals—one that hooks up to your smartphone. Gitanjali Rao, an 11-year-old from Colorado, won the 2017 Young Scientist Challenge by inventing Tethys, a faster lead-testing device than what's currently on the market. With Tethys, instead of waiting for a lab, you can get results instantly. It's not commercially available yet, though, so for now, we'll have to stick with mail-away options.

[h/t Popular Science]

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