Magnetic railway technology is helping grow lung tissues

Maglev trains have earlier used the magnetic levitation technology to break speed records. The newest breakthrough, however, is applying this very principle to grow lung tissue. A chemist recently grew a bit of human lung tissue by magnetically levitating it in a pool of liquid full of nutrients and other chemicals that cells need to grow. The method may sound strange, but the tissue that was created is among the most lifelike ever grown in a lab. Their Maglev setup could soon grow more true-to-life models of other types of tissues, too.

The tissue developed is quite sophisticated. It has four layers of different types of cells, mimicking the layers that appear in the walls of the smallest air passages in working lungs, called bronchioles. This may be the first 3D piece of lung tissue with organized layers of cells that scientists have been able to grow. The scientists are now hoping the tissue can provide a more accurate way of testing the effects of air pollutants, such as ozone or soot, on the lungs. They’ll be testing pollutants on their lung tissue.

Scientists constantly need to test the biological effects of drugs, pollutants and other chemicals. The simplest way is to apply the chemicals to lab animals, such as rats, or guinea pigs. This method is low on accuracy, and inhumane. Over the past few decades, however, researchers have been developing a third test target: cells grown in more-complex, 3D shapes. The resulting cells react more like live lungs, livers and other tissues than the cells grown in the 2D environment of a flat dish.

The Maglev lung tissue could be especially helpful for research because its creators were able to use a magnet to suspend the lung piece right at the surface of the liquid it is growing in. That’s the perfect setup. The lung cells have air at the top and liquid from the bottom, which is like the lung in the body, where one side is exposed to air and the other side is not.

Scientists are working on levitating and growing layered pieces of other types of tissues as well, such as heart valves. They have also grown stem cells with this Maglev technique, in a step toward regenerative medicine.

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