What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you’re thinking about cotton candy? Is it the texture? Is it the taste? Is the machine? Regardless of your answer, I’m pretty sure that it’s not organs. According to a new invention from the University of Vanderbilt, artificial organs benefit from cotton candy technology.
Capillaries and cotton candy
As you may or may not know, cotton candy machines work by using a huge amount of centrifugal force to turn an amount of pure sugar into the cotton candy we all know (and most of us love). This happens because the centrifugal force stretches the sugar crystals, making them thinner and longer, but at the same time allowing them to keep quite a high resistance.
Meanwhile, capillaries are very small and fragile veins, with very thin walls, that are used by the body to send oxygen and nutrients from the heart to the rest of the cells, but also to carry off the unneeded carbon dioxide.
Since they are so fragile and work at a cellular level, scientists developing artificial organs in laboratories have been having a hard time creating something that could replace the capillaries without which the organs simply cannot function.
As it turns out, the answer might lay in the most unexpected of places, unless you’ve actually been reading the article so far – in the technology behind the cotton candy machine.
The application for human organs
Always fascinated by the workings behind the cotton candy machine, mechanical engineering assistant professor Leon Bellan thought of a possible solution to the capillary conundrum. By tweaking the machine a little bit and replacing the key ingredient of sugar, Bellan finally got what they were searching for – artificial capillaries.
What replaced the sugar in the machines was a material called hydrogel, and all you need to know about it lies in its name. A water based gel, the hydrogel’s texture is similar to that of hair gel, but it can also mimic soluble compounds diffusion, thus having the key element that was missing from the artificial capillaries.
Strong and flexible enough to be molded and thinned without breaking, the hydrogel seems like the best choice for this particular project. Not all the news is good, however, as the artificial tiny blood vessels are only viable for about a week and a half.
This is much more successful, however, in relation to previous attempts. More will be revealed to the public as the technology is being expanded upon.
Image source: Wikimedia