How a Canadian 'biohacker' is using apples to grow human ears
Taline McPhedran, CTVNews.ca
Published Wednesday, June 22, 2016 11:33AM EDT
A University of Ottawa biophysicist has hacked an apple's cell structure and used it to grow human tissue with a technique he hopes might one day pave the way to low-cost organ replacement.
Andrew Pelling and his team recently published a study in scientific journal PLOS ONE that details their experience of biohacking the fruit to not only grow mammalian cells, but actually implant them into the body of a mouse.
Pelling’s team say they started using apples because their internal cellular structures are well-suited to the job. They prepare the apple by washing it to remove the cells, leaving behind the cellulose structure that makes apples crunchy. That then becomes a “scaffold” on which they grow new cells.
“What you’re left with is a structure that’s three-dimensional and this thing just supports the growth of the body’s cells,” Pelling told CTV News Channel.
The team implanted small pieces of the decellularized apples into mice which were checked at one week, four weeks and eight weeks. The study found that by the eighth week, surrounding mouse cells had successfully occupied the implant and had stopped treating it as an invasive object.
“There was no immune response or rejection and you even get new blood vessels growing inside of the scaffolds,” said Pelling.
According to Pelling, biomaterials for implants are often expensive – ranging from $30 to $1,500 per square centimetre – and can be problematic due to how they’re sourced. Most biomaterials come from either animals or human cadavers, though some implants have been sourced from synthetic polymers.
“We’ve created a material that works just like commercial products except it’s very low cost and extremely easy to use,” said Pelling.
The team was able to grow an ear by carving an apple into an ear shape and then adding human cells.
Pelling has looked at using flower petals and other vegetables. He says that the shape of the flower petals could be perfect for regenerating skin and the tubular shape of the asparagus could coax spinal nerves and blood vessels to grow.
According to Pelling, his team isn’t the only one working with regenerative material, but they are the only ones working on such low-cost and open source options. Pelling’s goal is to create something that can be used by anyone and has even published step-by-step instructions on how to create open source biomaterials.