3D printing organs, cellulose tissue and rescue drones: Silicon Valley medicine

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3D printing organs, cellulose tissue and rescue drones: Silicon Valley medicine
3D printing organs, cellulose tissue and rescue drones: Silicon Valley medicine

From Google and Facebook to eBay and Xerox, Silicon Valley has traditionally been considered one of the world's largest high-tech clusters. Here are three promising Silicon Valley projects that will save thousands of lives in the future.

Drone Zips
Drone Zips

Salvation comes from the air

Drones from science fiction books and films are actively becoming a part of modern reality: no one is surprised by unmanned aerial vehicles racing in parks, quadcopters for photo and video filming, delivery of goods and letters by air, monitoring of the territory. Even special signs have appeared prohibiting the use of drones in a specific place, and the prohibitions always indicate the massiveness or prevalence of the phenomenon. The specialists of the Zipline company even argue that one day a drone can save a person's life.

In October 2016, Zipline, a California-based drone robotics project, signed a government contract with Rwanda to deliver essential drugs and blood donations to hard-to-reach regions. A special distribution center was opened in the country, to which 15 Zips drones were assigned. In total, according to representatives of Zipline, in two years, their drones made more than 5,000 completely autonomous flights and covered 300,000 kilometers to deliver 7,000 units of blood where a car cannot pass or a helicopter cannot land - the topography of Rwanda is very complex.

Half of the incoming requests are for women with postpartum haemorrhage, another third are for young children with severe anemia due to malaria, and about 20% are for emergency services and rescuers. Doctors can make a request in any convenient way: call, write a message, contact via a messenger. After that, a drone takes off from the distribution center, more like an enlarged toy plane. It can accelerate to 130 km / h, so after 15-30 minutes it arrives at a given point, drops the box (it lands with a parachute) and returns to base. Two minutes before arrival, the doctor receives an automatic message that the parcel is almost there - you can go out to meet it. Such a well-oiled mechanism can significantly reduce the time of delivery of vital medicines and donated blood - by car, this journey usually takes four hours.

Today, the company accounts for a fifth of all blood deliveries outside the country's capital, Kigali. More recently, in April 2018, Zipline announced that it is preparing to transform and improve the delivery system: for example, the time for processing a request will be reduced from 10 to one minute, and the number of daily flights, on the contrary, will grow from 50 to 500. In addition, the plans of the project - the launch of a similar service in Tanzania and entry into the US market: before that they could not agree with government agencies, which referred to the lack of legislative instruments regulating such air transportation. Therefore, already this year or next year, the expansion of the unmanned logistics industry is possible: this would greatly facilitate the life of regions of the United States suffering from floods, droughts, tornadoes or hurricanes.

Print edition of organs

3D printing of organs - or bioprinting - promises to be a revolution in the field of medicine: ideally, this technology will solve the problem of queues for organ transplants once and for all. Every day, 22 people in the United States alone die without waiting for a transplant - and the queue can drag on for two to three years. In addition, there is always a risk of rejection of a new organ, even if the donor fits 100%. Therefore, bioprinting in the long term can save thousands of lives and make transplantation, if not a routine operation, then at least quite affordable and widespread.

But this is in the long term, and technology is only developing, albeit quite actively. Research is underway in Silicon Valley, as one of the most innovative scientific clusters, and Prellis Biologics is one of the most talked about projects in recent years. The startup, launched in San Francisco in 2016, involves the cultivation of a new organ from cells taken from a patient: as planned, doctors take a biopsy, transfer it to Prellis, where special conditions are created for the reproduction of these cells. When there are more of them, scientists supplement them with a collagen mixture and use a laser beam to form an artificial organ.


Everything would be fine if not for time - the decisive factor in transplantation issues. The creation of an artificial organ, according to the forecasts of specialists from Prellis, took six months, sometimes less. This, of course, is much faster than a live queue for donor organs, but patients often do not have even these months. Therefore, the news that Prellis reported in June 2018 could really revolutionize bioprinting: Scientists were able to speed up the process of printing fabrics a thousand times.

Prellis Biologics 3D holographic printing allows you to create complex microvascular systems that deliver nutrients and oxygen to cells. This technology is the basis for the future production of full-fledged human organs, but in the meantime, tissues are used, for example, by pharmaceutical companies to test drugs. The ultimate goal of this startup project is to bioprint the entire vascular system of a human kidney in less than 12 hours.

Get ink and print

However, many companies are engaged in bioprinting today - with varying degrees of success. But if there are 3D printers, then you need 3D ink - but few think about them. The market for related products and raw materials was unoccupied - simply because it was not at all as exciting as the bioprinting process itself. Fortunately, Eric Gatenholm, the founder of Cellink, a company that produces bio-ink from human cells, took care of this issue. At the time the project was launched in 2015, Gatenholm was only 25 years old, but he set ambitious goals for himself - no less than make a radical revolution in medicine.

Over the three years of its existence, Cellink has become one of the leaders in its field: if in 2014 it was impossible to purchase bio-ink on the Internet, the volume of production of the substance was minimal and required preliminary long scientific research, then with the advent of Cellink, the purchase of ink became a common practice. The company makes the substance from cellulose - it is extracted from the forests of Sweden - and alginic acid from seaweed. Most importantly, these are standardized, versatile inks: they are compatible with any type of cell. The final cost ranges from $ 9 to $ 299, so bio-ink is available to almost everyone, even not the largest laboratories. Cellink supplies its inks and 3D printers to research centers in the United States, Europe and Asia, including MIT, Harvard University and University College London.

The practical benefits of Cellink - if the company continues to develop at the same rapid pace - is obvious: ubiquitous access to materials for 3D-printing will significantly speed up the process of printing organs, help to put it on stream. Even if this happens more than a decade later, in the near future we can talk about at least a significant reduction in animal experiments: pharmaceutical companies will be able to use samples of real human tissue grown artificially for their tests.

Although Cellink was founded in Sweden, where Gatenholm himself is from, very soon the company entered the international market and began to build momentum - including opening a representative office in the United States. In America, she has several offices, one of which, of course, in Silicon Valley - this is where almost all novice scientists, programmers, seekers and enthusiasts dream of getting, regardless of their professional background (Gatenholm has nothing to do with natural or exact sciences - he graduated from the Faculty of Management). It was here from Boston that Mark Zuckerberg moved at the very beginning of his journey when he just started working on Facebook.

According to the experts of the Discovery Channel project "Stories of Silicon Valley", this place has a special magical culture that allows you to create the conditions in which the most breakthrough technologies of our time and, possibly, the future are born. Steve Wozniak in his interview for "The History of Silicon Valley" admitted that if he had at one time moved not to Northern California, but to some other place, then most likely Apple would simply not have appeared. About how such an ecosystem arose in Silicon Valley and why it became the center of attraction for the most progressive ideas and fantastic technologies, the program is told directly by those who wrote and are still writing its history - the founders of Apple and WhatsApp, Intel and Hewlett-Packard and many others.

Watch The Silicon Valley Stories from July 17th every Tuesday at 11:00 pm on the Discovery Channel.

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