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← How we could teach our bodies to heal faster

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Showing Revision 9 created 09/20/2018 by Oliver Friedman.

  1. What if you could take a pill or a vaccine
  2. and, just like getting over a cold,
  3. you could heal your wounds faster?
  4. Today, if we have
    an operation or an accident,
  5. we're in the hospital for weeks,
  6. and often left with scars
    and painful side effects
  7. of our inability to regenerate
    or regrow healthy, uninjured organs.
  8. I work to create materials
  9. that instruct our immune system to give us
    the signals to grow new tissues.
  10. Just like vaccines instruct
    our body to fight disease,
  11. we could instead instruct
    our immune system
  12. to build tissues
    and more quickly heal wounds.
  13. Now, regrowing body parts out of nowhere
    might seem like magic,

  14. but there are several organisms
    that can achieve this feat.
  15. Some lizards can regrow their tails,
  16. the humble salamander
    can completely regenerate their arm,
  17. and even us mere humans
    can regrow our liver
  18. after losing more than half
    of its original mass.
  19. To make this magic
    a bit closer to reality,

  20. I'm investigating how our body
    can heal wounds and build tissue
  21. through instructions
    from the immune system.
  22. From a scrape on your knee
    to that annoying sinus infection,
  23. our immune system defends
    our body from danger.
  24. I'm an immunologist,
  25. and by using what I know
    about our body's defense system,
  26. I was able to identify key players
  27. in our fight to build back
    our cuts and bruises.
  28. When looking at materials
    that are currently being tested

  29. for their abilities to help regrow muscle,
  30. our team noticed that after treating
    an injured muscle with these materials,
  31. there was a large number of immune cells
  32. in that material
    and the surrounding muscle.
  33. So in this case,
  34. instead of the immune cells rushing off
    towards infection to fight bacteria,
  35. they're rushing toward an injury.
  36. I discovered a specific
    type of immune cell,
  37. the helper T cell,
  38. was present inside
    that material that I implanted
  39. and absolutely critical for wound healing.
  40. Now, just like when you were a kid
    and you'd break your pencil

  41. and try and tape it back together again,
  42. we can heal,
  43. but it might not be
    in the most functional way,
  44. and we'll get a scar.
  45. So if we don't have these helper T cells,
  46. instead of healthy muscle,
  47. our muscle develops
    fat cells inside of it,
  48. and if there's fat in our muscle,
    it isn't as strong.
  49. Now, using our immune system,
  50. our body could grow back
    without these scars
  51. and look like what it was
    before we were even injured.
  52. I'm working to create materials

  53. that give us the signals
    to build new tissue
  54. by changing the immune response.
  55. We know that any time
    a material is implanted in our body,
  56. the immune system will respond to it.
  57. This ranges from pacemakers
    to insulin pumps
  58. to the materials that engineers are using
    to try and build new tissue.
  59. So when I place that material,
    or scaffold, in the body,
  60. the immune system creates
    a small environment of cells and proteins
  61. that can change the way
    that our stem cells behave.
  62. Now, just like the weather
    affects our daily activities,
  63. like going for a run
  64. or staying inside and binge-watching
    an entire TV show on Netflix,
  65. the immune environment of a scaffold
  66. affects the way that
    our stem cells grow and develop.
  67. If we have the wrong signals,
  68. say the Netflix signals,
  69. we get fat cells instead of muscle.
  70. These scaffolds are made
    of a variety of different things,
  71. from plastics to naturally
    derived materials,
  72. nanofibers of varying thicknesses,
  73. sponges that are more or less porous,
  74. gels of different stiffnesses.
  75. And researchers
    can even make the materials
  76. release different signals over time.
  77. So in other words, we can orchestrate
    this Broadway show of cells
  78. by giving them the correct
    stage, cues and props
  79. that can be changed for different tissues,
  80. just like a producer would change the set
  81. for "Les Mis" versus
    "Little Shop of Horrors."
  82. I'm combining specific types of signals
  83. that mimic how our body responds to injury
    to help us regenerate.
  84. In the future, we could see
    a scar-proof band-aid,
  85. a moldable muscle filler
    or even a wound-healing vaccine.
  86. Now, we aren't going to wake up tomorrow
    and be able to heal like Wolverine.

  87. Probably not next Tuesday, either.
  88. But with these advances,
  89. and working with our immune system
    to help build tissue and heal wounds,
  90. we could begin seeing
    products on the market
  91. that work with our body's defense system
    to help us regenerate,
  92. and maybe one day be able
    to keep pace with a salamander.
  93. Thank you.

  94. (Applause)