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"Heart Warming" -- The Discovery Files

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A research team, led by the University of Minnesota, has discovered a groundbreaking process to successfully rewarm large-scale animal heart valves and blood vessels preserved at very low temperatures. The discovery is a major step forward in saving millions of human lives by increasing the availability of organs and tissues for transplantation through the establishment of tissue and organ banks.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Defrost mode (Sound effect: microwave oven beep) set.

I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files from the National Science Foundation.

Ever try to thaw frozen ground beef by nuking it on defrost? Some areas thaw, some cook, and some are still frozen. When warming frozen tissue for transplants -- especially larger tissues (even though we don't use a microwave), that kind of uneven warming is bad news, making the damaged tissues unusable. A group of scientists led by the University of Minnesota has made a major advance and they're just getting warmed up.

For decades we've had preservation technologies to cool biological samples to an extreme chill, dude. Trouble is, it's usually done on very small samples, because on larger ones, damage occurs upon re-warming.

The team placed a tissue sample in a cryoprotectant solution, containing silica-coated nanoparticles of iron oxide. The particles act like little tiny heaters activated by a non-invasive electromagnetic wave. The technique warms the tissue evenly up to 100 times faster than current methods.

Result: No tissue damage. And they were able to increase the tissue size by 50 times. As the team scales up toward entire organs, the work could eventually lead to elimination of waiting lists for transplants and fewer discarded organs.

Warms your heart, doesn't it?

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at nsf.gov or on our podcast.

 
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