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.

Photo courtesy of Justin Sather
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Upworthy and GoFundMe are celebrating ideas that make the world a better, kinder place. Visit upworthy.com/kindness to join the largest collaboration for human kindness in history and start your own GoFundMe.

While most 10-year-olds are playing Minecraft, riding bikes, or watching YouTube videos, Justin Sather is intent on saving the planet. And it all started with a frog blanket when he was a baby.

"He carried it everywhere," Justin's mom tells us. "He had frog everything, even a frog-themed birthday party."

In kindergarten, Justin learned that frogs are an indicator species – animals, plants, or microorganisms used to monitor drastic changes in our environment. With nearly one-third of frog species on the verge of extinction due to pollution, pesticides, contaminated water, and habitat destruction, Justin realized that his little amphibian friends had something important to say.

"The frogs are telling us the planet needs our help," says Justin.

While it was his love of frogs that led him to understand how important the species are to our ecosystem, it wasn't until he read the children's book What Do You Do With An Idea by Kobi Yamada that Justin-the-activist was born.

Inspired by the book and with his mother's help, he set out on a mission to raise funds for frog habitats by selling toy frogs in his Los Angeles neighborhood. But it was his frog art which incorporated scientific facts that caught people's attention. Justin's message spread from neighbor to neighbor and through social media; so much so that he was able to raise $2,000 for the non-profit Save The Frogs.

And while many kids might have their 8th birthday party at a laser tag center or a waterslide park, Justin invited his friends to the Ballona wetlands ecological preserve to pick invasive weeds and discuss the harms of plastic pollution.

Justin's determination to save the frogs and help the planet got a massive boost when he met legendary conservationist Dr. Jane Goodall.

Photo courtesy of Justin Sather

At one of her Roots and Shoots youth initiative events, Dr. Goodall was so impressed with Justin's enthusiasm for helping frogs, she challenged the young activist to take it one step further and focus on plastic pollution as well. Justin accepted her challenge and soon after was featured in an issue of Bravery Magazine dedicated to Jane Goodall.

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Often, parents of children with special needs struggle to find Halloween costumes that will accommodate medical equipment or provide a proper fit. And figuring out how to make one? Yikes.

There's good news; shopDisney has added new ensembles to their already impressive line of adaptive play costumes. And from 8/30 - 9/26, there's a 20% off sale for all costume and costume accessory orders of $75+ with code Spooky.

When looking for the right costume, kids with unique needs have a lot of extra factors to consider: wheelchair wheels get tangled up in too-long material, feeding tubes could get twisted the wrong way, and children with sensory processing disorders struggle with the wrong kind of fabric, seams, or tags. There are a lot of different obstacles that can come between a kid and the ability to wear the costume of their choice, which is why it's so awesome that more and more companies are recognizing the need for inclusive creations that make it easy for everyone to enjoy the magic of make-believe.

Created with inclusivity in mind, the adaptive line is designed to discreetly accommodate tubes or wires from the front or the back, with lots of stretch, extra length and roomier cut, and self-stick fabric closures to make getting dressed hassle-free. The online shop provides details on sizing and breaks down the magical elements of each outfit and accessory, taking the guesswork out of selecting the perfect costume for the whole family.

Your child will be able to defeat Emperor Zurg in comfort with the Buzz Lightyear costume featuring a discreet flap opening at the front for easy tube access, with self-stick fabric closure. There is also an opening at the rear for wheelchair-friendly wear, and longer-length inseams to accommodate seated guests. To infinity and beyond!

An added bonus: many of the costumes offer a coordinating wheelchair cover set to add a major boost of fun. Kids can give their ride a total makeover—all covers are made to fit standard size chairs with 24" wheels—to transform it into anything from The Mandalorian's Razor Crest ship to Cinderella's Coach. Some options even come equipped with sounds and lights!

From babies to adults and adaptive to the group, shopDisney's expansive variety of Halloween costumes and accessories are inclusive of all.

Don't forget about your furry companions! Everyone loves to see a costumed pet trotting around, regardless of the occasion. You can literally dress your four-legged friend to look like Sven from Frozen, which might not sound like something you need in your life but...you totally do. CUTENESS OVERLOAD.

This year has been tough for everyone, so when a child gets that look of unfettered joy that comes from finally getting to wear the costume of their dreams, it's extra rewarding. Don't wait until the last minute to start looking for the right ensemble!


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