A technology development company in southern Indiana, Techshot Inc., is close to printing a human heart in space and manufacturing blood vessels inside your body using your own cells. Researchers at the Floyd County facility have spent years working on the kinds of cutting-edge technology that company officials anticipate will lead to major lifesaving medical developments in the near future. Company spokesman Rich Boling said one of those developments could have a real impact on members of our armed forces who suffer serious injuries to their arms and legs.
Eugene Boland, Techshot chief scientist, said the number of soldiers suffering injuries to their extremities has drastically increased due to the widespread use of explosives in today’s war zones. A 2011 report found more than two-thirds of wounds were to service members’ limbs, where they experienced damage to their soft-tissue, arteries, and bones. Boling said in most cases, medics can repair damaged bones and muscle tissue, but fixing injured blood vessels is more complicated. Most service members experienced multiple injuries to their extremities, doctors could not use spare vessels from the other limb to graft in arteries. That has led to an increase in the number of amputations.
Boling stated, “More soldiers are surviving because of core body armor, but more are losing their limbs. The technology has gotten pretty good with putting bones back together and dealing with muscle loss, but that’s not the case with vascular systems. That’s been a tough nut to crack.” However, Techshot scientists are in the middle of research that could solve the problem using a process called electrospinning to manufacture brand-new arteries using a service member’s own stem cells.
Boling said a machine weaves a small biodegradable tube using a thin stream of natural and synthetic polymers. Like a spider spinning a web, the liquid instantly hardens around a rotating mandrel to create the tubing. Scientists then collect stem cells from the patient’s body fat and imprint them on the tube, which are implanted into the patient’s limb. Over the next six to nine months, the biodegradable tube is absorbed into the body, leaving a natural blood vessel behind in its place. Boling said the technique is probably around eight years away from receiving approval by the United States Food and Drug Administration to be used on patients, but the research is nearing a critical point very soon. That is when scientists will begin pre-clinical trials on lab animals.