You may have seen some pretty unusual ways to make artificial organs, but Vanderbilt University might have just topped them all. Its researchers have developed a technique for making the templates of artificial organs using a cotton candy machine -- that's right, the machine whipping up treats at the county fair could effectively save your life. The team discovered that the same centrifugal process that melts sugar into delicious, fluffy strands also turns hydrogel into cell-friendly microfibers that behave like capillaries in the human body.
It's still early going, but this approach is already much more promising than current alternatives relying on electrospinning. A block of the resulting gel 'lived' for over a week, and the fibers are both easier to make and 10 times thinner. They're potentially cheaper, too. Vanderbilt got its technique working with a $40 cotton candy maker from Target, so hospitals wouldn't need expensive equipment (beyond an organics-friendly 3D printer, that is) to create viable transplants.