How to grow a bone without a body

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This video features the work of TED Fellow Nina Tandon and Sarindr Bhumiratana, her colleague at Columbia University’s Laboratory for Stem Cells and Tissue Engineering and partner-in-new-business-crime. Together with a group of fellow bio-engineers, the pair recently founded the company, Epibone, which they describe as “a revolutionary bone reconstruction company that allows patients to ‘grow their own bone’.”

Huh? So what does that really mean? In the video, the pair break down their thinking and their process — which involves taking a decellularized bone scaffolding from an animal, adding fat stem cells taken from a human and leaving the two to cook. It’s more complicated than that, obviously, not to mention early days. So far, testing of the brand new bones (which grow in about three weeks) has only taken place in pigs, so there’s a long way to go before this procedure will make it to human testing. Nonetheless, it’s a fascinating insight into a field that might just upend how we think about medical procedures or, more broadly, our own physical selves.

This article was published as part of our “Questions Worth Asking” series. This week’s teaser: “Should we redesign humans?” See also a playlist of talks featuring thoughts on this topic from the likes of Anthony Atala and Nina Tandon, a spin through the history of biomaterials and a fascinating conversation about the ethics of bioengineering with philosopher Julian Savulescu.

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