Laboratory lungs are go

Paul Raven @ 25-06-2010

Almost exactly a year back, we mentioned that biologists were looking into the possibility of growing simulated lungs to use instead of rats for toxicology testing procedures. Today, The Guardian reports that working prototypes of these cheap and ethical lung analogues are well in hand. (Warning: article includes use of the colloquial “[x]-on-a-chip” buzzphrase which, if you’re anything like me, makes you want to punch kittens and cuss at nice old ladies.)

The work at Harvard will be used mainly for studying the workings of living lung tissue without having to open up people or animals. It could also be used to test the effects of environmental toxins or new drugs.

The lung-on-a-chip could predict how human lungs absorb airborne nanoparticles and mimic the inflammatory response triggered by pathogens, said Donald Ingber, the vascular biologist who led the work at Harvard University’s Wyss Institute.[…] The device was able to replicate many of the natural responses of lung tissue, such as detecting pathogens and speeding up blood flow so that immune cells can deal with the invaders.

And in the rather select category of “news also involving biology, lungs and rats”, a team at Yale has grown new rat lungs and patched them into test subjects, who are reportedly breathing just fine [via SlashDot]:

The team started with decellularized adult rat lungs, which retain the organs’ branching airways and blood vessel network, and added a mixture of lung cells from newborn rats. Niklason says that the crucial step was nurturing the would-be lungs in a bioreactor that circulates fluid—simulating what would happen during fetal development—or air through them. The cells stuck to the scaffold in the right locations and multiplied. After up to 8 days in the bioreactor, they had coalesced into what the researchers’ tests indicated was functional lung tissue.

How long until we can buy off-the-shelf replacement organs? Will they ever be cheaper (or more reliable) than back-street “donor” options sourced from underprivileged populations?


Large Hadron Collider up and running; world not destroyed

Paul Raven @ 10-09-2008

But then you’d have to be a staggeringly ignorant fool to believe it would have been, anyway.

Yes, just as planned, the Large Hadron Collider at CERN was activated this morning… and while it hasn’t actually started doing collision tests yet, the boffins have been revving protons around the ring and checking everything works as it’s supposed to. And apparently, it’s going better than they had hoped. Here’s a computer representation of particles produced by protons smashing into collimators*:

Large Hadron Collider proton collision graphic

The Holy Grail of the Large Hadron Collider project is a subatomic particle known as the Higgs Boson, the conjectural key to the Unified Theory that physicists have been chasing after for years.

However, not everyone thinks it will be that simple – Steven Hawking himself has a $100 bet that the Higgs will not be found. Particle physics isn’t my field (arf!), but I’d be hesitant to bet against a guy with Hawkings’s track record. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. [image courtesy CERN via New Scientist article]

* – No, I’m not entirely sure what a collimator is, either. And I’ve probably mis-termed or described at least one thing wrong in the above post, because that’s what happens when writers try to report on Big Physics; I try my best, but I’m not on a journalist’s salary here. I’m sure some of our friendly readers in the field will correct any errors with their usual alacrity. 🙂


Everything Can And Will Be Hacked: digital testing systems

Paul Raven @ 28-08-2008

classroom testIt’s an old story, but worth bringing up because of the fundamental truth it teaches us. Back in the nineties, a company called Edutron Systems was trying to get schools to upgrade from the hopelessly antiquated pencil-and-paper test system to its disk-based gizmo, with predictable results:

It took all of one test for the students to find a flaw in the system: if one received an unsatisfactory score, he could simply retake the test. Classroom Assistant didn’t bother recording how many times each test was taken. Sure, retaking the test several times was time-consuming, but generally worth the effort.

On the second test, students found a slightly easier workaround: they could simply run a different test. Since the results screen did not indicate which test was taken, all one needed to do was open up the “Test Taking Tutorial” test and pass it with flying colors.

It gets worse as it goes on, of course – kids are resourceful when they want to avoid something onerous.

And so, the lesson is: everything can and will be hacked; the greater the motivation for a successful hack, the faster it will occur. Maybe time to back off on those ambitious plans for biometric passports, eh? [story via Hack A Day] [image by ccarlstead]