Human organs … on a chip?!

Recently I learned that we can actually grow miniature human organs in a tiny, nutrient-rich environment and keep them alive. This has all sorts of useful applications such as testing the safety of new drugs here on Earth or assessing the impact of radiation on human tissues in space. In fact, the tissues can even be grown from a particular person’s stem cells and then multiple tiny organs connected together so that systemic effects can also be studied. Apparently while I wasn’t looking, this bit of science fiction became reality!

A few days later, I had a thoroughly unexpected moment of convergence. I was visiting the Evergreen Air and Space Museum and marveling at, among other things, their full size model of the Spirit of St. Louis. While reading the poster about Charles Lindbergh, I learned that among his many interests and activities, in 1935 he also invented a perfusion pump – a device meant to keep organs alive outside the human body by artificially circulating oxygen and nutrients (and keeping out infection). (The picture at right is credited to Georgetown University.) I’m sure he’d be thrilled to see the latest advances, less than a hundred years later.

A curious mind can be applied to solve all sorts of problems!