Category Archives: Biological Sciences

From Inkjets to Human Skin: Using A Regular Ink Printer to Print Human Tissue


Ink printers are used daily to print assignments and papers. The general population is also relatively aware of 3D printers, printers that print three dimensional objects of any shape. Now, a new kind of printer is being developed to print human tissue.Researchers at Wake Forest University, lead by Anthony Atala, have been researching the treatment of burns.

Current methods to treat burns include skin grafting. Skin grafting requires doctors to take skin from a healthy donor site on a person’s body (an area that is usually covered by clothing) and transplant it to the damaged site. The new skin graft is held in place by stitches and dressing. Unfortunately, this procedure is prone to infection and requires the damage to the donor site to help the damaged site. Another method requires skin cells to be grown in vitro then, applied to the affected area on the body. This method requires careful handling, as the skin grown in vitro can break down or warp in shape very easily.

Skin graft.  Image credit: Wikipedia

Skin graft.
Image credit: Wikipedia

This new technology to print human tissue is a medical breakthrough. Using the same technology as a regular inkjet printer, researchers were able to successfully print skin tissue. Instead of the inkjet printhead being connected to a well of different colours of ink, the printhead is connected to “wells” of different types of cells. A laser first scans the burn area and the printer can print skin cells directly onto the wound, thus eliminating the complications that arise from the traditional methods of burn treatment.

The research team is also looking to successfully print organs. Unlike skin cells which could be printed flat, organs would need a 3D mould for the printer to print onto. They have successfully printed bone and mouse hearts and implanted them into mice. The one drawback is that organs do not exist as an island. They require connections (blood vessels, nerves, etc) to other parts of the body. While the tissue printer can print the organ, there is further work that needs to be done to figure out how to print the organ’s connections. Skin on the other hand, is more simple. Once the printed skin is applied to the body, it absorbs the body’s plasma and blood vessels begin to connect to it.

Since this development occurred a while ago (year 2010), more recent developments by another research team at Cornell have been able to print human heart valves. Other human body parts have also been successfully printed. These are important developments in the area of organ and tissue transplants. Here is a video illustrating tissue printing:

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– Jade Lu

Can’t decide? Roll a die


Image source: Flickr commons; Uploader: neni d

Do you ever feel as though despite your experiences, you repeatedly make the same mistake? Most of the time, we center our decisions on logic and prior experience. But…  can we ever get the best outcome by simply making a random choice and ignoring what we already know?

(Click here for an awesome article about how our brain helps our reasoning and decision-making!)

Rats were monitored by a computer that tried to predict the rat’s decisions. Image Source: Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI)

In a study recently published in Cell, scientists from Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) found that when faced with a challenging “opponent”, rats stopped using strategy to make decisions and made decisions randomly instead. In the experiment, rats were presented with two holes in a wall, one of which contained a sugary reward. Meanwhile, the rats were monitored by a computer-simulated opponent, which recorded the rats’ past choices so as to predict its future choices. To get the sugar, the rats had to choose the hole that was not predicted by the opponent. When faced with opponents that made weak predictions, the rats selected holes using strategy. However, when the computers used complex algorithms to predict the rats’ choices, the rats instead selected holes at random!

Are there advantages for animals to change behaviour from using logic to choosing randomly? Firstly, when animals encounter situations that are unpredictable in the wild, such as predators or prey that move erratically, it could be beneficial to move randomly to evade predation or capture prey. Moreover, random behaviour might be useful in the exploration of new environments. For example, a rat might find food in a place that it would not explore if it were making decisions based on past experience gained in a different environment.

The scientists from HHMI discovered that when the rats faced hard-to-beat opponents, the amount of a stress hormone (norepinephrine) increased in the rat’s brain. Furthermore, the rats continued to act randomly even after the opponent started to make weak predictions again! To free the rats from this state, the scientists suppressed the release of the stress hormone, causing rats to return to their strategic decision-making.

Further research into the role of hormones in the brain on decision-making may lead to novel treatments foe mental conditions. Image source: Flickr commons; Uploader: European Space Agency

This study may be a step in the right direction of developing a treatment for “learned helplessness” in people. Learned helplessness is a mental condition in which an individual becomes unwilling to avoid painful situations because they believe that they cannot control the outcome. The actions of people suffering from this disorder resemble that of the rats stuck in “random mode”, as their decision-making is impaired. Perhaps a treatment can be found in the near future for learned helplessness and other conditions, such as depression, with further research investigating the brain’s function in decision-making.

In the video below, uploaded to YouTube by LennyBound, an Oxford math professor participates in an experiment that aims to explain the brain’s role in decision-making:

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-Imran Mitha

Ebola: The Most Dangerous Virus In The World

Microbes, life forms too small to be seen by the unaided human eye, make our bodies their home and use it to live and reproduce. Among these microbes are viruses, more like machines than organisms, with only one purpose: to keep making more of themselves. Viruses inhabit living cells and use the cells’ machinery to reproduce, so the cells can’t work the way they’re supposed to. The results are generally horrible, and none more so than those of Zaire ebolavirus. Zaire ebolavirus can kill about 90% of the people it infects, though the current outbreak in West Africa has killed only about 65% of the confirmed cases according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Zaire ebolavirus image courtesy of The Tech Journal (click image).

Ebola is transferred through contact with infected bodily fluids, even sweat, and people infected with Ebola must be isolated in a health care facility. Symptoms of Ebola include vomiting, diarrhea, and haemorrhage (losing blood through openings on the surface of the body). In spite of this, contact with infected bodily fluids is not hard to come by, and Ebola is quite easy for a healthy person to contract. In addition, Ebola has started making its way around the world, and nobody is really safe. Humans have no official pharmaceutical defense (vaccines, drugs, medicine, etc.) against Ebola, making Ebola the deadliest virus in the world to humans, even more so than the almost invariably fatal (if untreated) rabies virus since humans have developed effective vaccines and treatments for rabies.

So how can we avoid Ebola? It’s worth pointing out that Z. ebolavirus can be killed with soap, so wash your hands frequently. If someone diagnosed with or suspected to have Ebola has been on your property, the area should be professionally cleaned and disinfected. Everyone who’s been on the property since the infected individual should be tested for Ebola as symptoms do not appear immediately after infection and may have been contracted by a visitor or resident. Ebola has a horrifying reputation, and the results are very real. Nonetheless, if we all do our part, Ebola is unlikely to become a global pandemic (rapid infections and outbreaks all over the world). A YouTube video by TestTube puts this matter in clear perspective:

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– Jared Martin

How to get over pain for free?

Have you ever been hurt so badly you had to go to the hospital or pharmacy to pick up some painkillers?


Source: Flickr Commons Example of painkillers

These painkillers such as morphine are super addictive and it may cause even more problems with your body then you think.

But not to worry, a team from Pasteur Institute in Paris, France, led by Catherine Rougeot has possibly found a better and safe painkiller treatment. This new treatment is not only free, but also very easy to obtain. This new treatment is our saliva.


Source: Flickr Commons Baby Saliva

Saliva is a clear, watery liquid made by our glands in our mouth area. The liquid made by our mouth contains various kinds of chemicals. One of the chemicals produced is the Opiorphin.

Opiorphin can suppress pain sensation for both chemical-induced inflammation and acute physical pain. Rougeout and her team wanted to test how strong this chemical in our mouth can be by injecting it into rats. These rats had been given either chemically-induced chronic pain or mechanically-induced acute pain in order to test the dosage needed.

For both chemical and physical pain, these poor rats needed about six times as much morphine as opiorphin to keep them from bursting out from the pain.


Source: Flickr Commons Example of a lab rat

From the study, the researchers are suspecting that opiorphin plays a big part in blocking our nerve systems, specifically the chemical called enkephalin.

Enekephalin is the trigger-man of our nerve system. It sends a signal to our brain whenever we feel pain to let the rest of our body to react to the situation. In this case, the researchers have found that opiorphin found in our saliva was super effective preventing this event.

However the research was not able to identify the right condition for our body to release such chemical in our saliva. Not to mention the fact that there is legitimate evidence that supports opiorphin affects the physiological control of pain perception.

Despite the critiques, this founding is still ground breaking, and can further improve our medical knowledge in both painkilling and anti-depressive methods according to Rougeout.

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Source: Institut Pasteur, (2012, Sep 18) Catherine Rougeot, Institut Pasteur.

This is the interview done at the Pasteur Institute regarding Catherine Rougeout’s founding. (It is in French so no idea what they are saying)

By Jeamin Yoon


sick? eat s###!

Recently, Scientists and Researching physician have made poop pills a viable therapy against C. Difficile infections.

Frozen pills of fecal matter, ready for ingestion. - NPR/ Hohmann Lab

Frozen pills of fecal matter, ready for ingestion. – NPR/ Hohmann Lab

Why would anyone in their right mind want to ingest pills filled with poop? according to the lead researcher, Dr. Elizabeth Hohmann, it’s a big step from the previous methods of enemas and nose drip-tubes, which were accident-prone, especially “if people gagged and vomited, they could inhale fecal matter. “

Yikes. Why are people taking such grotesque (if not extreme) methods for treatment? what exactly is a C. difficile infection, and why is it so difficult to treat?

Clostridium difficile  is a type of bacteria that is known to cause “opportunistic infections”, or infections when the host is able to be infected easily, usually with the host being in a weakened/compromised state; in this case, most of the cases of C. difficile infections are caused by the lack of other, more benign bacteria colonizing the intestines, usually due to antibiotic treatment. This is akin to introducing wolf packs onto a sheep farm, where there are no competitors/predators for the wolves. As a result, the wolves prosper, at great cost to the sheep and the sheep farmer – a fitting metaphor for both the person infected by C. difficile , and the physician treating it, since C. difficile infections are especially antibiotic-resistant, and are prone to recurrent (i.e: multiple and returning) infections.

How C.difficile spreads- Wikipedia/CDC

The purpose of undertaking fecal transplants is to re-populate the patient’s colon and intestines with benign/helpful bacteria, thereby out-competing the harmful C.difficile. In an extension to the wolves/farmers metaphor, this would be akin to introducing more farm workers, scaring away the wolf pack and ensuring the prosperity of the farm.

Of course, the draw-back to this form of therapy is the “ick-factor”, effective though it may be.  This is why scientists have been working on a synthetic version of the bacteria flora populating our gut- dubbed appropriately, “rePOOPulate”. Research is still on-going  in the field of bacteria flora colonizing our gut; hopefully, one day someone can invent a form of therapy with all of the benefits of faecal transplants, and none of the “ick-factor”.

YouTube Preview Image  Source:Mary Greely Medical Centre, Via YouTube

– James L.

We cannot live without drinking water.

How much water do you drink a day?

Your body is composed with about 60 percent of water: Muscle consists 75%, brain consists 90%, bone consists 22% and blood consists 83% of water. However, body loses water every moment through sweating, breathing and urinating. Therefore, you should drink enough water everyday to keep adding up the amount of water you lose!

There are so many benefits to drinking lots of water a day. Water helps you lose weight. Water stops headaches, dizziness and clears skin. Also, water helps organs to be healthy. Water regulates body temperature and helps with metabolism. Are you a big fan of coffee? You can try to drink more water and stop drinking coffee. Water can make you feel energetic just like coffee, but water is healthier!

By Jorge Barrios (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Jorge Barrios (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

If you do not consume enough water, you will see some dehydration symptoms. There are several symptoms of dehydration: Increased thirst, dry mouth, swollen tongue, decreased urine output, dizziness and more. If you feel any one of these symptoms, drink water. It will solve relieve your symptoms.

There are many ways you can consume water. Drinking any kind of drinks such as teas, coffees or soft drinks will help your body be hydrated; however, water is the best drink than any other drinks because it has no calories, no sugar and no food color. Also, eating water-rich foods such as lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes, broccoli, carrots, watermelon and grapefruit can keep you hydrated.

Photo of watery Grapefruit.  Photo by Flickr

Photo of watery Grapefruit.
Photo by Flickr


It depends on your weight, sex and your current health conditions, but it is recommend to drink eight 8-ounce glasses, which is about 1.9 liters, of water a day. I started two weeks ago to drink at least 1.5 liters of water a day and I try to drink a glass of water right after I wake up, to keep myself awake. Also, I try to carry a water bottle so that I can drink water anytime, anywhere. I really recommend downloading an app that helps you keep up the amount of water you drink a day. Moreover, if you cannot drink plain water, try to slice in some lemon or lime.

This video made by HealthiNation summarizes this post and reminds you the importance of drinking water.

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Drink water and keep the doctors away.

Michelle Bak

Discovery of the first natural antiviral

Penicillin was discovered as the first antibiotic by Alexander Fleming, who isolated it from fungus in 1928. This is considered to have been a huge breakthrough as its discovery led to the successful treatment of cases of bacterial disease, saving millions of lives, although its misuse has now made many types of bacteria resistant. However, natural antivirals have not previously been discovered, despite the prevalence of diseases caused by viruses including Ebola, HIV and influenza.

Japanese/Chinese honeysuckle. Source: Creative Commons

Japanese/Chinese honeysuckle.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Earlier this year, researchers in China discovered what they call MIR2911, a product that prevents the reproduction of influenza A viruses (IAV). According to the researchers, the Japanese/Chinese herb honeysuckle has been used to treat the flu for thousands of years, and some studies (1, 2) show that it suppresses the reproduction of IAV. However, until now, the active compound responsible for this was unknown, as well as its mechanism of action.

Electron micrograph of IAV Source: Creative Commons

Electron micrograph of IAV
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The researchers found that MIR2911 acts against IAVs such as H1N1, H5N1, and H7N9, which have been responsible for the swine flu, avian flu, and Spanish flu pandemics respectively. MIR2911 suppresses IAV by binding directly to the influenza virus and inhibiting the expression of two genes that are vital in the replication of influenza viruses.

This is an important discovery as there has previously been no natural antivirals discovered, and this presents a novel therapeutic agent that can be used not only against influenza A, but potentially other viruses as well, due to its broad spectrum. The researchers say that their discovery is something akin to a “virological penicillin” that can be used and chemically modified, as has been done to penicillin, to produce drugs that can treat the flu. Hopefully, we will have learned from our use of penicillin in order to try to prevent widespread antiviral drug resistance.

The following video is about flu viruses and how they infect us:

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Source (user): maia86magnoly


The secrets behind the posterchild of regret: the tattoo.

It took me a long time to finally convince myself to get a tattoo. It wasn’t the potential for it being an overwhelmingly painful experience, but the stigma of having a tattoo on one’s body and the risks associated with it that held me back for so many years. The risks of tattooing are relatively common knowledge: the potential of infection, blood-borne illness, and life-altering regret. What fascinated me, however, was exactly how tattooing works.


Retrieved from “”. Click to view source.

The process of tattooing, regardless of its method of application, involves ink particles penetrating the epidermis (surface layer) and settling in the deeper dermis layer of the skin. The dermis layer is filled with blood vessels, nerves, and glands and is not prone to the same shedding activity as the epidermis. Due to the nature of application, the body immediately begins to treat the new tattoo as a wound and activates the body’s inflammatory response. White blood cells called macrophages  attempt to engulf the offending ink to dispose of it as foreign material. Some manage to consume the ink and carry it away from the tattoo (which is one of the reasons your tattoo will fade over time) and some consume the ink and stay in the tattoo. Scientists also claim that some ink particles are too large to be consumed by the macrophages, so they rest in the dermis. Surrounding skin cells will also absorb the ink and pass it on to other skin cells when they die. Over a period of 2-4 weeks, the damaged epithelial skin peels away like a sunburn revealing the healed tattoo that should remain there for the rest of your life.


Healing tattoo retrieved from “”.

This slow motion video of the tattooing process visually demonstrates the process of tattooing. YouTube Preview Image

This video elaborates on why tattoos are permanent.
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After all of that research, I ended up getting a tattoo symbolizing my cat beneath my right ankle.


My fresh tattoo. Notice how bruised and swollen it is.


My healed tattoo. Notice how much the colours have reduced in intensity.

To be honest, I think knowing exactly what was going on in my skin made it hurt more, but it made the experience that much more exciting.
Alex Focken