This Isn’t A Horror Movie: Scientists Are Turning Organs Into Paper Cranes

The new guy at work invites you over to his house. You feel uneasy. Sure, he’s a hard worker, a fast typist, and his intense focus quickly made him an indispensable coworker. But his scarred face seems to betray some violent past. His measured speech seems manufactured. Still, you can’t remember the last new friend you made, you have nothing to do, and so you accept the invite.

He greets you in his foyer, and walks you into a dingy basement parlour, a wood-panelled, pink-carpeted room reminiscent of a supper club. Dust hangs thick in the rancid air. He motions towards a table cluttered with pale, folded paper animals. “These are all folded from tissue paper,” he says. He lets out a voiceless laugh. “I call it ‘organgami’. And you’re my next project.” You shriek and dash towards the door. It’s locked. All goes dark. By the end of the week, you’ve been reduced to an army of “tissue paper” cranes.

Erm, sorry, I let my imagination get ahead of myself. But Northwestern University scientists really are trying to create “tissue papers” from organs, although these are pig and cow tissues, not human ones. One day, they hope to be able to use these papers as a super-advanced bandaids, or for other biomedical applications.

The process begins with organs from the butcher which the researchers cut into cubes. After cleaning and blending them, they’re left with just a matrix from the destroyed cells’ proteins. They use the resulting powder to make these papers, as reported today in the journal Advanced Functional Materials. The team has been able to create these papers from hearts, kidneys, ovaries and other organ tissues.

The tissues could potentially have a versatile array of applications, from closing up wounds to boosting hormones in cancer patients. But they do have some limitations — the current process doesn’t allow the researchers to make the sheets more than a few millimetres thick, and the specific properties can differ between the batches of tissue used to make the papers. For now, it’s research in its very early stages.

So, I suppose these “tissue papers” aren’t nearly as scary as I implied earlier… so long as they’re not made from human tissue.

[Advanced Functional Materials]