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Printing Organs with Stem Cells And Two Other Ways NC Projects Might Save The World

Dr. Anthony Atala
Screen Shot from his TED Talk

With the abundance of universities, industry and research companies, it's no surprise that North Carolina is a leader in innovation. Here are three cutting-edge medical and science advancements developed locally that may soon have global effects.

1. Printing Organs with Stem Cells

Dr. Anthony Atala is a surgeon and researcher at Wake Forest who specializes in tissue and organ regeneration. He and his research team at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine are using 3-D printing technology and stem cells to build and grow bladders, parts of kidneys, blood vessels and even heart valves.

In 2006, Dr. Atala's team announced in the medical journal, The Lancet, that they had successfully grown bladders using bladder muscle and wall cells from patients with spina bifida. The lab-grown bladders were then used to surgically enhance the patients' dysfunctional bladders. If successful, this technology could replace the need for organ donors in the future.

2. Freeze-Dried Blood Products

Resusix is a freeze dried plasma product.
Credit Entegrion
Resusix is a freeze dried plasma product.

According to the American Red Cross, over 30 million blood components are used annually in the US. All of the components must be continuously stored at cold temperatures of 24 degrees C or less. This temperature requirement can cause problem when blood is needed in great supply, like war zones, third-world countries, and during any disaster where there is no electricity.

Entegrion, a biomedical company located in RTP, has been working on developing freeze-dried blood products that do not depend on cold storage. In 2012, the company received $1.9 million in funding from the Office of Naval Research to test this freeze-dried plasma product.

3. Cheap and Portable Water Testing Kits

Mark Sobsey demonstrates his cutting-edge water test.
Credit UNC Environmental Sciences and Engineering
Dr. Mark Sobsey demonstrates his cutting-edge water test.

UNICEF and the World Health Organization estimate that 768 million people still rely on unsafe drinking water. For these people, and in times of disaster, water can be as much a foe as it is a friend. E coli, cholera and many other diseases can be transmitted through unclean drinking water, but testing the water for these contaminants often requires test tubes, bacterial cultures and a mini-lab, until now.

Mark Sobsey at UNC's Gillings School of Public Health, has developed a cheap, portable and reliable way to test the safety of drinking water. The test consists of a plastic bag with 5 compartments, a 100-milliliter bottle, some culture media, and a plastic clip. In the last few years, the technology has been used in over 24 countries to test drinking water safety, including in the Philippines following Super Typhoon Haiyan last year.


Nancy Wang is WUNC's very first Digital Intern. Nancy will graduate in May 2014 from UNC's School of Medicine. Nancy is headed to Stanford to do her residency in June. She will specialize in urology. Nancy is a skilled writer and is passionate about medical/science journalism. She contributes to The Charlotte Observer and North Carolina Health News among other outlets.
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