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Cotton Candy used To Generate Network Of Blood Vessels

February 11, 2009

Scientists are turning to cotton candy as a novel tool to help grow replacement tissues for people. It seems the long-time favorite treat may provide an ideal way to generate a network of blood vessels within lab-grown skin, bone, muscle or fat for breast reconstruction, researchers say.

Dr. Jason Spector of New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York and Leon Bellan of Cornell University conducted the research on the new technique. 

It works by first pouring a thick liquid chemical over the cotton candy, and waiting for the liquid to solidify into a chunk. The chunk is then put in to warm water to dissolve the cotton candy, leaving small channels where the strands of cotton candy used to be.  Eventually, what is left is a piece of material containing a network of fine channels.

These channels are then lined with cells to create artificial blood vessels.  The solid chunk can be seeded with immature cells of the type of tissue scientists wish to make.

Since the block is biodegradable, as it disappears it is slowly replaced by growing tissue. Ultimately what remains is a piece of tissue permeated with tiny blood vessels.

The researchers have so far made these blocks of material with rat blood running through the channels.  While they may eventually change to something other than cotton candy as the research progresses, Bellan hopes to keep using the inexpensive candy as long as possible.

Spector, who keeps a jar of jelly beans on his desk, told the AP he enjoys cotton candy and that with the current research, “it’s taken on a whole new meaning.”

But Bellan sees things differently.  

“I actually hate cotton candy,” he told the AP.

“It’s disgusting. I won’t eat it.”

The research was published online this week in the journal Soft Matter.

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