For centuries, trying to understand what is happening within our organs has made it necessary to open them and look inside.
In April 2019 the process was revolutionized by a research team led by the director of the Institute for Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine at the Helmholtz Institute, Ali Ertürk. Completely transparent human organs were 3D printed using stem cells.
Today, another team led by Erturk announced in Cell magazine to have further perfected his technique, creating extraordinary images of a completely transparent human brain, eye and kidney.
The creation of transparent human organs is based on a process called "optical clearing". Basically, all tissues contain water, lipids and proteins that refract light. By adding refractive-altering chemicals, researchers can harness these properties to allow light to pass through tissues.
Adult human organs tend to accumulate dense tissues that block light, but a new combination of chemicals can travel through those tissues allowing us to see through them.
The team acquired images using a laser scanning microscope and used deep learning algorithms to analyze hundreds of millions of cells in 3D. They call the technique "Small-micelle-mediated Human orgAN Efficient clearing and Labeling," or SHANEL.
Transparent organs to reduce waiting for transplants
Eventually Ertürk and his team hope to use organ maps as models for 3D printing of functioning human organs.
The printed organs will first need to be tested on animals, but at the end of the tests the results could reduce the wait for i organ transplants.
"The waiting time for patients and the costs of transplants are a real burden", has explained Erturk in a press release.