27 May 2015
WEIRD SCIENCE - Any excuse for a pic of Kelly LeBrock, sporting skimpy briefs and a perm Kevin Keegan would be proud of.
By Stephen A Chadwick
In the mid 1980's whilst I was making the transition from spotty, socially awkward, gangly youth to the refined Adonis that stands before you today, Universal Pictures released a film that captured the imagination of many a schoolboy. "Weird Science" was the story of two teenage nerds, inspired by the 1931 Frankenstein movie, to create their dream girl on a computer. I forget what hardware they were using, it was certainly a step up from the ZX81 I had in my bedroom, but I do recall they had to hack into some federal mainframe to generate more computing power. With bras strapped to their heads and electrodes attached to a doll, an electrical surge in the grid resulted in a smokin' hot Kelly LeBrock materialising in a closet doorway. This was the future. Forget cloning sheep, they all look the same anyway. Redirect the funding into making something like this a reality.
Fast forward 30 years and I'm delighted to tell you all that big strides are finally being made. L'Oreal, the French cosmetics conglomerate, have announced a partnership with Organovo, specialists in 3D printing of human tissue. I grant you that growing skin isn't particularly new technology, but in the lab it's a time-consuming and laborious process; incubating the skin samples in Petri dishes and growing new cells. L'Oreal and Organovo are aiming to automate that process.
L'Oreal currently employ more than 50 scientists generating in excess of 100,000 wafer-thin samples per annum. The skin is broadly divided into 9 categories to represent varying ages and ethnicities. It's a mammoth task and the results can vary. L'Oreal's primary objective here is to develop consistent skin samples on which to test its make-up. An EU wide ban on animal use for testing cosmetics came into force in 2013 and since then L'Oreal has been dependent on donated skin remnants from surgery and then growing samples cell by cell from that.
Organovo's 3D bioprinting process works by laying down the cells layer by layer. The firm has already had success in printing liver tissue for pharmaceutical manufacturer Merck to test their drugs on. Organovo, as its name suggests, eventually hopes to be able to print entire organs for transplant and this partnership with L'Oreal could prove to be a profitable venture whilst at the same time continuing to perfect the technology.
Whilst L'Oreal's motives may not appear to be the most noble or philanthropic, the fact is that the tech that they're funding will undoubtedly reap rewards in other fields, most obviously to treat burn victims, in reconstructive surgery and in assisting 13 year old boys to build their own girlfriends.