His colleagues were skeptical, but this odd idea may help us grow new organs one day.

We don't have enough kidneys.

There are more than 100,000 people in the United States waiting on a kidney transplant to save their lives. Unfortunately, they may be waiting a long time — the median wait is over three years. For some people, it may be even longer.

"It's been extremely difficult," Amber Reynolds said in an interview. Her mom, Nitrinda "Renay" Reynolds, has been on the kidney waiting list since 2010. Her mom, a school teacher in Acworth, Georgia, had to stop working in September 2012 after too many complications. "Every year, we say this is the year. And now we're six years in," said Amber.


A dialysis machine is, unfortunately, a familiar companion for many people. Image from Irvin calicut/Wikimedia Commons.

One hundred thousand people. That's not even counting the number of people who need livers, lungs, or other organs. And though more than 120 million people are signed up to be organ donors, more than 20 people still die every day waiting for organ transplants.

Wouldn't it be great if we could just grow a new kidney or liver for someone? That's the idea behind artificial organs. And we do have a few — like artificial hearts — but more complicated organs still need a lot of work before we can use them in people.

We may have a new secret weapon in the great quest for lab-grown organs: cotton candy.

Image from Morgan/Flickr.

Yup, cotton candy. Or, more accurately, the machines that make it.

GIF from Vanderbilt University/YouTube.

Professor Leon Bellan and his team at Vanderbilt University are using these cotton candy machines — the same ones you might buy your kid at Target for $39.99 — to build better organs for people who need them.

"Fun for the whole family," reads the product description, though it's unlikely the cotton candy machine manufacturers were thinking of this use when they wrote it.

Here's where things get a little gross. You see, this all has to do with blood.

Your circulatory system is kind of like an internal highway system.

There's an interstate of big, high-capacity vessels. But people don't really live on the interstate. Instead, traffic flows onto smaller streets and neighborhood roads, where the cars can actually pick up people or drop them off. These are your capillaries.

Without capillaries, any large artificial organ is not going to be able to transport the necessary oxygen or nutrients to its cells.

A tuft of cotton candy looks a lot like a tuft of capillaries.

"Some people in the field think this approach is a little crazy," said Bellan. Many other researchers are a little suspicious of something that can look so messy. But after years of work, Bellan's idea is paying off.

To make the artificial organs, the researchers use the cotton candy machine and a special temperature-sensitive polymer to make a bit of pseudo-cotton-candy fluff. Then, they pour a goopy mix of cells and gelatin over the fluff mold. Once it sets, they can adjust the temperature to dissolve the temperature-sensitive polymer threads.

When those threads dissolve, they end up with a big block of cells with a bunch of very fine, very delicate tunnels running through it — kind of like what an organ looks like in real life!

This is what the capillaries in Bellan's gelatin organs look like zoomed in. GIF from Vanderbilt University/YouTube.

This could be a huge tool for anyone who wants to build an organ.

And this is what Bellan's gelatin organs look like zoomed out. Image from Bellan Lab/Vanderbilt University.

This cotton candy method has some key advantages over other attempts. For one, scientists can make the gelatin organs a lot thicker, which could be a big step toward getting them to work like real organs.

And the cells seem pretty happy too — the researchers found that the cells were still up and running even a week after the organ was made.

There's still more work to do, of course. Researchers' next steps will be to try to help the tunnels work more like real blood vessels, to try the technique with a couple different types of cells, and to get the cells to act more like a real organ. But for now, it's significant just to know that they've demonstrated the potential of their technique.

"We're trying to develop a toolbox," Bellan told Upworthy. He and his colleagues want to give both the research and medical communities an entirely new suite of tools that can be used for building real, effective artificial organs.

Imagine a world without a waiting list for an organ transplant. Imagine a world where people don't have to wait years to be healthy.

Wouldn't that be something?

In the meantime, let's hope for the people who are stuck in limbo and praise those selfless enough to literally give away a part of themselves. Let's root for the researchers who might, in the future, make the organ-transplant list a thing of the past. And lastly, let's root for cotton candy.

Heroes

I'm staring at my screen watching the President of the United States speak before a stadium full of people in North Carolina. He launches into a lie-laced attack on Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, and the crowd boos. Soon they start chanting, "Send her back! Send her back! Send her back!"

The President does nothing. Says nothing. He just stands there and waits for the crowd to finish their outburst.

WATCH: Trump rally crowd chants 'send her back' after he criticizes Rep. Ilhan Omar www.youtube.com

My mind flashes to another President of the United States speaking to a stadium full of people in North Carolina in 2016. A heckler in the crowd—an old man in uniform holding up a TRUMP sign—starts shouting, disrupting the speech. The crowd boos. Soon they start chanting, "Hillary! Hillary! Hillary!"

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via EarthFix / Flickr

What will future generations never believe that we tolerated in 2019?

Dolphin and orca captivity, for sure. They'll probably shake their heads at how people died because they couldn't afford healthcare. And, they'll be completely mystified at the amount of food some people waste while others go starving.

According to Biological Diversity, "An estimated 40 percent of the food produced in the United States is wasted every year, costing households, businesses and farms about $218 billion annually."

There are so many things wrong with this.

First of all it's a waste of money for the households who throw out good food. Second, it's a waste of all of the resources that went into growing the food, including the animals who gave their lives for the meal. Third, there's something very wrong with throwing out food when one in eight Americans struggle with hunger.

Supermarkets are just as guilty of this unnecessary waste as consumers. About 10% of all food waste are supermarket products thrown out before they've reached their expiration date.

Three years ago, France took big steps to combat food waste by making a law that bans grocery stores from throwing away edible food.According to the new ordinance, stores can be fined for up to $4,500 for each infraction.

Previously, the French threw out 7.1 million tons of food. Sixty-seven percent of which was tossed by consumers, 15% by restaurants, and 11% by grocery stores.

This has created a network of over 5,000 charities that accept the food from supermarkets and donate them to charity. The law also struck down agreements between supermarkets and manufacturers that prohibited the stores from donating food to charities.

"There was one food manufacturer that was not authorized to donate the sandwiches it made for a particular supermarket brand. But now, we get 30,000 sandwiches a month from them — sandwiches that used to be thrown away," Jacques Bailet, head of the French network of food banks known as Banques Alimentaires, told NPR.

It's expected that similar laws may spread through Europe, but people are a lot less confident at it happening in the United States. The USDA believes that the biggest barrier to such a program would be cost to the charities and or supermarkets.

"The logistics of getting safe, wholesome, edible food from anywhere to people that can use it is really difficult," the organization said according to Gizmodo. "If you're having to set up a really expensive system to recover marginal amounts of food, that's not good for anybody."

Plus, the idea may seem a little too "socialist" for the average American's appetite.

"The French version is quite socialist, but I would say in a great way because you're providing a way where they [supermarkets] have to do the beneficial things not only for the environment, but from an ethical standpoint of getting healthy food to those who need it and minimizing some of the harmful greenhouse gas emissions that come when food ends up in a landfill," Jonathan Bloom, the author of American Wasteland, told NPR.

However, just because something may be socialist doesn't mean it's wrong. The greater wrong is the insane waste of money, damage to the environment, and devastation caused by hunger that can easily be avoided.

Planet

Policing women's bodies — and by consequence their clothes — is nothing new to women across the globe. But this mother's "legging problem" is particularly ridiculous.

What someone wears, regardless of gender, is a personal choice. Sadly, many folks like Maryann White, mother of four sons, think women's attire — particularly women's leggings are a threat to men.

While sitting in mass at the University of Notre Dame, White was aghast by the spandex attire the young women in front of her were sporting.

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Men are sharing examples of how they step up and step in when they see problematic behaviors in their peers, and people are here for it.

Twitter user "feminist next door" posed an inquiry to her followers, asking "good guys" to share times they saw misogyny or predatory behavior and did something about it. "What did you say," she asked. "What are your suggestions for the other other men in this situation?" She added a perfectly fitting hashtag: #NotCoolMan.

Not only did the good guys show up for the thread, but their stories show how men can interrupt situations when they see women being mistreated and help put a stop to it.

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