In order to keep science interesting and relevant to students it always good to show them the latest breakthroughs in science and in this post I’ve got a couple of examples related to cells, tissues and organs that would be suitable for KS4 and KS5 biology students.
First a rather sensationalist headline from The Telegraph: Livers grown in the laboratory could solve organ transplant shortage
Look more closely at the story and it does not quite seem that this hails the end of the transplant waiting lists but it could be a step in the right direction.
The procedure involves creating a ‘scaffold’ from a rat liver by removing the cells to leave only the collagen and blood vessel structure. The team then used new liver cells to rebuild the tissue and implanted the new organ into rats. They found that the liver worked but only for a few hours.
It is hoped that in 5-10 years this technique could be used to grow livers (and possibly other organs) for human transplants. Every year thousands of donated livers are discarded because they are damaged and therefore unsuitable for transplants but they could be used as the scaffolds. Stem cells from the patient (or embryo stem cells) could then be used to grow the new liver cells. This would remove the problem of transplant rejection.
This sounds amazing but scientists are cautiously optimistic as other new procedures which utilise growing new tissue in the lab like this has not lived up to the hype in the past.
It seems that our rodent friends are earning their keep as the next procedure involves mice being saved from being stung to death by plastic antibodies.
Scientists injected mice with lethal doses of bee venom and then treated half with a plastic antibody which they made in the lab. 60% of the treated half survived.
The team made antibodies that fit the active protein in the venom (melittin) through a process called molecular imprinting. They used monomers and a catalyst to stimulate polymers to form around the molecules of bee venom, form cross-links and then solidify. They then dissolved away the venom itself, leaving plastic nanoparticles 1/50,000th the width of a human hair with empty cavities the exact shape to trap melittin.
If we assume that both of these will go on to be successful in humans then there will be many benefits to using this new technology. Both can be used to replace current procedures but each has its limitations.
I have produced two tables on this new biotechnology PowerPoint which contains more information about each procedure. You can leave out some of the information – what and how much will depend on the level of the students. They could then be given a copy of the news-story and use this, and their knowledge, to fill in the gaps.
A great way of making stem cells, the problems with organ transplants or immunology more topical.