Health Beat

Health Beat: Origami organs: Medicine's next big thing?

CHICAGO - Muscles torn during battle, open wounds, or damaged organs could all be healed with the help of paper-thin material. Northwestern University researcher Adam Jakus was working on 3D printable ink for organs when it spilled. He went to clean up and the biomaterial peeled off in a thin sheet.

"I knew I was onto something here, and I realized we could do this with all tissues and organs," said Jakus, the chief technology officer at Dimension Inx.

Using leftover parts from a local butcher's shop, Jakus and Northwestern Professor Ramille Shah began testing a special mixture. They removed the animal cells from specific organs, like livers and hearts, dehydrated the organs to form powder, then used liquid to cast into sheets which they call "tissue paper."

"And over time, the ultimate goal is to have that material completely replaced by natural tissue," said Shah.

For example, a cardiac surgeon using the cardiac tissue paper would cut a patch to fit the damaged area, so it needed to be doctor-friendly.

"They have to like the way it feels and it has to kind of fit in with their general routine of surgical procedures," Jakus continued.

Think origami for organs. Origami is the traditional Japanese art form of folding paper. The researchers' goal was to make the paper easy for doctors to apply.

"And in most cases, a surgeon won't form an origami bird and implant that, but the ability to show that we can create something as complex as an origami bird means that we can definitely create the folds necessary for a surgeon to implement it surgically," Jakus said.

It's cutting-edge medicine that may give surgeons maximum flexibility.

The researchers say they are about three to five years away from developing tissue papers that could be used in humans for muscle repair and regeneration. Paper for use in organs, like ovaries, would be closer to a decade away, but the timeline primarily depends on funding.

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