Science Cafe returns with a look at growing human tissue

  • Pig kidneys get cleansed of their porcine cells in a laboratory at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., on Wednesday, May 8, 2013. The university is experimenting with various ways to create replacement organs for human implantation, from altering animal parts to building them from scratch with a patient's own cells. (AP Photo/Allen Breed) Allen Breed—AP

Monitor staff
Published: 9/11/2017 11:39:42 PM

There’s a lot of hullabaloo surrounding the Advanced Regenerative Manufacturing Institute, a $290 million research and development project being created from whole cloth in the Manchester Millyard with the aim of creating ways to produce human tissue and organs, but perhaps the best way to understand it is to look at the end of its name.

That final word is “institute” – not laboratory, not company, not a made-up name with capital letters in unexpected places.

In academia, an institute is a semi-autonomous entity created within a university’s walls whose main role is to link together fields that don’t readily communicate – such as biology and physics, math and sociology, computers and linguistics, etc. – to create new ideas and, with any luck, new products.

That’s what ARMI hopes to do within a corporate – as well as academic – environment.

ARMI’s field is the new area of regenerative medicine – medicine that regenerates and regrows tissues like skin and bone, or even entire organs. The military is excited about this as a way to help heal veterans who are wounded or who have lost limbs, which is why it gave $80 million, combined with more than $200 million in corporate support, to launch ARMI and jump-start regenerative medicine.

As the institute ramps up, it will be finding or improving work being done with soldering irons, software, electron microscopes, genetic tests, cellular scaffolds and other unrelated tools, and helping them all connect. Its work is likely to range from deeply theoretical research to pragmatic business decisions.

“If you compare it to pizza: We don’t make the pizzas, we care about everything in the pizzas – how it gets there, what the oven is, that it gets to your house hot, that has good materials and the right ones,” said Richard McFarland, chief regulatory officer of ARMI. “There are some solutions and there are some challenges, and the folks that know the solutions don’t necessarily know the challenges, so some of what we’re doing is cross-fertilizing different fields, connecting people.”

Connecting different fields means encountering lots of interesting questions and problems. Science Cafe Concord loves interesting questions and problems, which is why McFarland and ARMI Chief Technology Officer Tom Bollenbach will be the panelists tonight as Science Cafe awakens from its summer slumber.

Show up at the free session – starting at 6 p.m. upstairs at The Draft Sports Bar – and you can ask them all the questions you want.

As an example of the sort of areas ARMI will tackle, McFarland pointed to sensors, or ways to monitor what is happening at the cellular level so that manufacturing can be developed and refined and move tissue regeneration from one-at-a-time individual processes to something more mass-produced.

“We need in-line sensing, in vitro sensing ... on cells and scaffolds, combinations of cells and scaffolds, knowing what’s going on at a detailed level as you move through the manufacturing process. That is something the industry really needs as a whole,” McFarland said.

“Right now almost all the processes are heavily manual. That makes them hard to scale up to a volume for something that will become a commonly used therapy for large numbers of people,” he said.

How best to do that? And how do you get human tissue to grow in a lab like it does in the body? And what about growing human organs inside of pigs – I’ve read about that online, is it real?

Yup, no shortage of questions to ask Tuesday night. Show up to hear the discussion. See you there.


(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)

David Brooks bio photo

David Brooks is a reporter and the writer of the sci/tech column Granite Geek and blog, as well as moderator of Science Cafe Concord events. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in mathematics he became a newspaperman, working in Virginia and Tennessee before spending 28 years at the Nashua Telegraph . He joined the Monitor in 2015.

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