So, here's something you can do with that cotton-candy machine that has been gathering dust in the back of your kitchen cabinet: Instead of sugar, throw in a polymer and, presto, spin out some artificial capillary systems, a necessary step to the ultimate creation of artificial organs. The process is a bit more complicated than that but, in essence, that's what Leon Bellan, Assistant Professor of mechanical engineering at Vanderbilt University, has achieved. In an article published online by Advanced Healthcare Materials on Feb. 4, Bellan and his team of researchers reported that they were successful at producing a three-dimensional artificial capillary system that can keep living cells viable and functional for more than a week. And it all started with a $40 cotton-candy machine Bellan bought at Target.
While attending a lecture on tissue engineering that discussed the need to create an artificial vascular system to support cells in thick engineered tissue, it occurred to Bellan, then a graduate student, that electrospinning can produce networks resembling capillaries on a very small scale.