Friday, January 22, 2010

Friday TED Talk: Anthony Atala on the Body's Ability to Regenerate

Anthony Atala, M.D. must have one of the most fascinating jobs in the world: he heads up the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, where teams of medical researchers have been at work for more than twenty years developing the skills and techniques needed to enable human tissue regeneration. In the amazing video below, he shows slides and brief clips of the Institute's ongoing work: everything from regenerating a short section of blood vessel or urethra, to complete regrowth of human organs, including a heart valve, a bladder and a liver! (Much of the work is still in experimental stage, but at the very end of his talk, Dr. Atala shows a short clip of a patient with spina bifida who has actually benefited from the Institute's work, and is a living example of their success.) Watch and marvel at the built-in capabilities of the human body, and the ingenious technology adapted to exploit those capabilities (including a dot-matrix printer that has been modified so it can "print" human skin!):

Dr. Atala's biography is here; this is the home page of the Wake Forest Institute, which shows much more about its work, including a segment from a recent broadcast of 60 Minutes. You should watch this talk in its high-res version to get its full impact; and you may download it in that and other versions from this page. Oh, yes -- and one more thing: Dr. Atala speaks with a gentle Harvard ("Hah-vahd") accent, cultivated over his many years spent there. A graduate of that institution myself, I still had to replay his words several times before I could translate what sounded like "we basically found that you can use these smart-bomb materials . . ." (about four minutes into the talk, when he is showing a slide). What he is actually saying is: "We basically found that you can use these smart biomaterials . . ." People from Boston will feel right at home with this talk; the rest of you might need to listen a little more carefully ("cahfully") than usual.

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