Tissue engineering in N.H. topic of Science Cafe

Science Cafe returns this month after a holiday break to tackle the topic of regenerative manufacturing – the production of living tissue. On Wednesday night, Science Cafe New Hampshire will meet again at the Riverwalk Cafe to discuss the science going on at the Advanced Regenerative Manufacturing Institute.

Back when I was a young(er) computer scientist at HP Labs, we collaborated with a professor at Clemson University who was doing some very unusual things with our printers. He was using them to lay down layers of organic cells in an attempt to stimulate vascularization that produced living tissue. It seemed the stuff of science fiction as he explained that printers were excellent at placing very small amounts of a substance (typically ink) in extraordinarily precise and repeatable positions. He was just substituting cells for ink, and NASA was especially interested in his work. They foresaw deep space missions where, if someone got seriously ill, the only choice would be to grow new organs “in situ” to save them! Yes, that means growing them inside the body.

The problem Clemson had was that the cells they were trying to place were much larger than the ink droplets that the nozzles were designed to dispense. HP helped the professor acquire some modified, “fat” nozzles, and he went about his research. The years went by, and I lost track of the technology, forgot about the professor and didn’t realize the incredible advances that were being made in bioengineering.

Now, the topic of tissue engineering has returned to the forefront as New Hampshire’s own visionary, Dean Kamen, has helped spark a new initiative around this very area in the heart of New Hampshire’s mills through a consortium called BioFabUSA. Their vision is for New Hampshire to take the lead in regenerative manufacturing by establishing a broad partnership involving the federal government, industry, nonprofits and more.

As Tom Bollenback, Science Cafe panelist and ARMI/BioFabUSA chief technology officer explained, “The BioFabUSA program is a public-private partnership between the Department of Defense and the Advanced Regenerative Manufacturing Institute, a member driven nonprofit organization, whose mission is to make practical the large-scale manufacturing of engineered tissues and tissue-related technologies, to benefit existing industries and grow new ones. This mission is supported by $80,000,000 in federal funding that has been leveraged to secure additional financial commitments from ARMI BioFabUSA members, including industrial, academic and nonprofit organizations and institutions. This government investment aligns with two of its goals, the first being investment in next generation manufacturing industries as part of the ManufacturingUSA program and the second being the shift in focus of DoD tissue engineering and regenerative medicine (TERM) investments from research and toward translation and commercialization. This includes organizations whose missions align with the prospect of developing TERM therapies towards curing certain diseases by developing a new advanced tissue manufacturing industry.”

These technologies hold promise for treatment in a wide variety of areas, including diabetes, renal failure and limb loss, but that is just the beginning. Tom and Richard McFarland, chief regulatory officer at ARMI/BioFabUSA, will be on hand to explain the vision, plans and science of tissue engineering today and where they see it growing tomorrow.

Come to Science Cafe for the chance to talk with Tom and Richard about tissue engineering and how ARMI is likely to change New Hampshire. This may well be the next industrial revolution, once again using our mills to innovate new technologies and improve life in ways we can’t yet imagine. Tissue engineering, organ creation and the chance to manufacture replacement parts for our bodies is a dream worth talking about, and a science we should all understand. Here’s your chance to talk with real experts!

Join the conversation at Science Cafe this week. As always, Science Cafe is a free monthly gathering, now at The Riverwalk Cafe and Music Bar.

Learn more about Science Cafe New Hampshire at www.ScienceCafeNH.org.

Dan Marcek is co-founder of Science Cafe New Hampshire and can be reached at dan@vetflix.org.