Artificial Organs May Finally Get a Blood Supply Artificial tissue has always lacked a key ingredient: blood vessels. A new 3-D printing technique seems poised to change that.

In what may be a critical breakthrough for creating artificial organs, Harvard researchers say they have created tissue interlaced with blood vessels.

Using a custom-built four-head 3-D printer and a “disappearing” ink, materials scientist Jennifer Lewisand her team created a patch of tissue containing skin cells and biological structural material interwoven with blood-vessel-like structures.Reported by the team in Advanced Materials, the tissue is the first made through 3-D printing to include potentially functional blood vessels embedded among multiple, patterned cell types.

In recent years, researchers have made impressive progress in building tissues and organ-like structures in the lab. Thin artificial tissues, such as a trachea grown from a patient’s own cells, are already being used to treat patients (see “Manufacturing Organs”). In other more preliminary examples, scientists have shown that specific culture conditions can push stem cells to grow into self-organized structures resembling a developing brain, a bit of a liver, or part of an eye (see “Researchers Grow 3-D Human Brain Tissues,” “A Rudimentary Liver Is Grown from Stem Cells,” and “Growing Eyeballs”). But no matter the method of construction, all regenerative projects have run up against the same wall when trying to build thicker and more complex tissues: a lack of blood vessels.

Lewis’s group solved the problem by creating hollow, tube-like structures within a mesh of printed cells using an “ink” that liquefies as it cools. The tissue is built by the 3-D printer in layers. A gelatin-based ink acts as extracellular matrix—the structural mix of proteins and other biological molecules that surrounds cells in the body. Two other inks contained the gelatin material and either mouse or human skin cells. All these inks are viscous enough to maintain their structure after being laid down by the printer.

A third ink with counterintuitive behavior helped the team create the hollow tubes. This ink has a Jell-O-like consistency at room temperature, but when cooled it liquefies. The team printed tracks of this ink amongst the others. After chilling the patch of printed tissue, the researchers applied a light vacuum to remove the special ink, leaving behind empty channels within the structure. Then cells that normally line blood vessels in the body can be infused into the channels.

The smallest channels printed were about 75 micrometers in diameter, which is much larger than the tiny capillaries that exchange nutrients and waste throughout the body. The hope is that the 3-D printing method will set the overall architecture of blood vessels within artificial tissue and then smaller blood vessels will develop along with the rest of the tissue. “We view this as a method to print the larger vessels; then we want to harness biology to do the rest of the work,” says Lewis.

Google takes consumers’ wrists to next frontier with Android watch

Voice-controlled smartwatches that track heart rates and connect to phones and tablets will debut later this year as Google Inc partners with electronics, technology and fashion companies to take consumers to the next promised frontier in computing.

Google on Tuesday unveiled plans to help develop the watches and other wearable computers based on its Android mobile operating system, which already runs more than three out of four smartphones sold worldwide.

The Android Wear project is open to software makers to create apps for the watches, putting Google at the forefront of efforts to jumpstart the nascent wearable computing market.

The news comes as speculation swirls around iPhone-maker Apple Inc’s plans for wearable computers, including a smartwatch of its own. Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook has promised new “product categories” later this year.

A video posted on Google’s blog on Tuesday showed people speaking into their watches to check sports scores, control music, send replies to text messages and even open their home garages.

By aligning itself with a broad spectrum of partners to develop the smartwatches, Google is hoping to replicate the success that helped make its free Android software the most popular smartphone operating system, analysts said.

LG Electronics said on Tuesday it would introduce its first Android watch, the G Watch, in the second quarter. Motorola said its Moto 360 Android watch would be available this summer. Fossil Group Inc, which makes watches, handbags and other accessories, also announced that it was working with Google on Android devices.

Many believe wearable computers represent the next big shift in technology, just as smartphones evolved from personal computers, but efforts by various companies so far have had mixed results.

Samsung was among the first to sell a smartwatch for consumers, but its maiden effort, the Galaxy Gear, was widely panned by reviewers.

Google’s announcement “definitely gives wearables a status that it’s a market in its own right and it needs to be treated with the respect that a separate operating system branch gives it,” said Carolina Milanesi, an analyst with Kantar World Panel.


Android smartwatches will connect wirelessly to a mobile phone and can be outfitted with a variety of sensors, Google said. That means that apps developed for Android watches will be able to monitor fitness and health information such as a wearer’s heart rate or distance jogged.

Google released an Android Wear Developer Preview on Tuesday, saying it would allow software makers to begin creating specialized apps for the watches.

Google has also been developing Google Glass, a small stamp-sized screen attached to a pair of eyeglass frames. Google Glass can record video, access email, provide turn-by-turn driving directions and retrieve info from the Web by connecting wirelessly to a user’s cell phone, but it has also raised concerns ranging from privacy intrusions to distracted driving.

Smartwatches have a better chance of catching on with the general public than Google Glass, said Ramon Llamas, an analyst with industry research firm IDC.

“It’s a really cool idea, but there’s something that creeps people out about it,” Llamas said of Google Glass.

The success of smartwatches will depend on the device’s price, battery life and the appeal of the watches’ designs, he said.

Motorola said it would share more details about its forthcoming Moto 360 smartwatch when it holds a special online press conference on Wednesday. Google recently announced plans to sell its Motorola business to Chinese PC-maker Lenovo Group Ltd.

Juniper Research expects more than 130 million smart wearable devices will ship by 2018. Moreover, global shipments of wearable “smart glasses” alone will reach 10 million each year by 2018, compared with an estimated 87,000 in 2013, according to the research firm.


Google, whose projects range from self-driving cars to robots, likely sees smartwatches as part of the future evolution of computing, said Raymond James analyst Aaron Kessler. But he said it remained to be seen whether smartwatches will become an indispensable digital accessory or a “nice-to-have” gadget.

“At this point I would still view it as a niche product,” he said.

Among the more than 10 companies that are partnering with Google on Android watches are Samsung Electronics Co, HTC Corp, Asustek Computer Inc, Intel Corp, Qualcomm Inc, Broadcom Corp and Mediatek Inc.

Qualcomm and its manufacturing customers are working on “multiple” wearable devices based on its Snapdragon processors, spokesman Jon Carvill said. He declined to elaborate.

“We’ve barely scratched the surface of what’s possible with mobile technology,” Google said in a post on its official blog on Tuesday. “That’s why we’re so excited about wearables — they understand the context of the world around you, and you can interact with them simply and efficiently, with just a glance or a spoken word.”

Shares of Google closed 1.6 percent higher at $1,211.22 on Tuesday. Shares of Fossil Group rose 4.6 percent to $118.04.

Alibaba plans IPO that could break Facebook’s record, Yahoo shares jump By Jeremy C. Owens

Alibaba plans to hold its initial public offering — which could be the largest ever for a technology company — in the United States, and Yahoo is already reaping rewards from its early investment in the Chinese powerhouse, with the Sunnyvale company’s stock shooting higher Monday morning.

Alibaba officially announced Sunday that it would file for an IPO in the United States instead of Hong Kong, though the e-commerce company news release said that a future filing in China for a dual listing is possible.

“This will make us a more global company and enhance the company’s transparency, as well as allow the company to continue to pursue our long-term vision and ideals,” the company’s statement read.

An employee walks past a logo of Alibaba Group at its new base on the outskirts of Hangzhou, China, on Nov. 4, 2013.

An employee walks past a logo of Alibaba Group at its new base on the outskirts of Hangzhou, China, on Nov. 4, 2013. (JEFF LEE/EPA)

Founded by Jack Ma in 1999, the Hangzhou, China, company is well-known internationally for its self-titled website, which links small and medium-sized businesses around the world with manufacturers in China and elsewhere. The approach helped Alibaba enjoy an annual growth rate of about 50 percent of registered users from the U.S. from 2008 to 2012, when it reached 6.2 million American users at the end of last year; total membership checked in at 36.7 million registered users from more than 240 countries and regions, with more than 2.8 million supplier online storefronts and more than 5,900 product categories.

The company has its hands in several other pies as well, including its Taobao Internet retail website, which launched in 2003 and is analogous in China to eBay or Amazon in the states. In fact, Alibaba Group claims a larger gross merchandise volume — a measure roughly equal to gross sales — than eBay or Amazon combined, and could eclipse Wal-Mart in sales within five years.

Yahoo invested $1 billion for a 40 percent stake in the company in 2005, when the Sunnyvale Internet company’s cofounder, Jerry Yang, was CEO. Yahoo has already realized large profits from the deal, with current CEO Marissa Mayer selling half of that stake back to Alibaba for $6.3 billion in cash and $800 million in preferred stock in the company, as well as a cash payment of $550 million for intellectual property and other considerations.

Yahoo came away from that deal with about $4 billion after taxes, the bulk of which was used to buy back stock, while still holding on to a stake of about 24 percent of Alibaba. Investor excitement has shown up in Yahoo’s stock price, which more than doubled in 2013 despite the company’s revenues showing few signs of growth. Alibaba’s revenues topped Yahoo’s for the first time in 2013, when the Chinese company’s sales flew 65 percent higher to finish higher than $6 billion, while Yahoo’s revenues declined 6.1 percent to $4.7 billion, according to Yahoo’s annual report.

Yahoo’s shares roared higher again after the IPO announcement, gaining 4 percent Monday to close at $39.11.

“There are certainly some smart investments that I owe to my predecessors. Very notably, Jerry Yang’s investment in Alibaba is something that people are very excited about,” Mayer said at a conference in San Francisco last year.

While Alibaba has not established how many shares it expects to sell nor a preliminary price range, experts say the company is currently worth as much as $200 billion, topping Amazon’s market capitalization, $172 billion. An IPO that comes anywhere near that type of valuation would easily top Facebook’s $104 billion value during its May 2012 IPO, when the Menlo Park social network raked in $16 billion, the most ever for a technology company.

Alibaba’s negotiations to list its company in Hong Kong fell apart because Alibaba refused to change its unique management structure to abide by that exchange’s rules, according to reports late last year. Hong Kong’s exchange does not allow dual-class stock structures that give early investors greater power than new stockholders, a tactic used by several Silicon Valley powerhouses including Google and Facebook; while Alibaba is not seeking a dual-share structure, its partnership model allows the partners to dictate who sits on the company’s board instead of shareholders, which Hong Kong would not allow.

Microbes and Metabolites Fuel an Ambitious Aging Project

Craig Venter’s new company wants to improve human longevity by creating the world’s largest, most comprehensive database of genetic and physiological information.  WHY IT MATTERS: A better understanding of human aging could help researchers treat many diseases.

Last week, genomics entrepreneur Craig Venter announced his latest venture: a company that will create what it calls the most comprehensive and complete data set on human health to tackle diseases of aging.

Human Longevity, based in San Diego, says it will sequence some 40,000 human genomes per year to start, using Illumina’s new high-throughput sequencing machines (see “Does Illumina Have the First $1,000 Genome?”). Eventually, it plans to work its way up to 100,000 genomes per year. The company will also sequence the genomes of the body’s multitudes of microbial inhabitants, called the microbiome, and analyze the thousands of metabolites that can be found in blood and other patient samples.

But despite decades of research on aging and age-related diseases, there are no treatments to slow aging, and diseases like cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s continue to plague patients. A more comprehensive approach to studying human aging could help, says Guarente. The key is to go beyond genome sequencing by looking at gene activity and changes in the array of proteins and other molecules found in patient samples.

To that end, Human Longevity will collaborate withMetabolon, a company based in Durham, North Carolina, to profile the metabolites circulating in the bloodstreams of study participants. Metabolon was an early pioneer in the field of metabolomics, which catalogues the amino acids, fats, and other small molecules in a blood or other sample to develop more accurate diagnostic tests for diseases (see “10 Emerging Technologies 2005: Metabolomics”).

Metabolon uses mass spectrometry to identify small molecules in a sample. In a human blood sample, there are around 1,200 different types; Metabolon’s process can also determine the amount of each one present. While genome sequencing can provide information about inherited risk of disease and some hints of the likelihood that a person will have a long life, metabolic data provides information on how environment, diet, and other features of an individual’s life affect health.

Metabolic data can also help researchers interpret the results of genome-based studies, which can often pinpoint a particular gene as important in a disease or a normal cellular process without clarifying what that gene actually does. If a particular metabolite is found to correlate with a particular genetic signal in a study, then researchers have a clue as to the function of the DNA signal.

And changes in blood metabolites are not just caused by changes in human cell behavior: the microbes that live in our bodies produce metabolites that can be detected in blood, says John Ryals, CEO and founder of Metabolon. “When you get certain diseases, we believe your gut microbiome is changing its composition, and that leads to changes in what molecules are being made,” he says.

Ryals says his company, working with collaborators, has already shown that blood biochemistry changes with aging: “You can tell how old someone is just by looking at their metabolites.”

Human Longevity says it will license information from its databases to pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies as well as academics.


Microsoft shares flirt with dotcom-boom levels on iPad app report

(Reuters) – Microsoft Corp’s shares scaled levels last seen in the dotcom boom on Tuesday following reports that the company plans to unveil an iPad version of its Office software suite, potentially generating billions of dollars in revenue.

Reuters reported on Monday that new Microsoft Chief Executive Satya Nadella would unveil the iPad app at an event on March 27 as part of his “mobile first cloud first” strategy.

The event would be Nadella’s first major public appearance since his appointment last month.

Microsoft shares rose as much as 5 percent to $39.90, adding $15 billion to the company’s market value. At that price, the stock was up about 10 percent since the announcement of Nadella’s appointment on February 4. The shares last touched $40 in July 2000.

Microsoft has had iPad and iPhone versions of Office primed for several months now, sources told Reuters, but the company has dallied on their release due to internal divisions, among other things.

Analysts said the lack of an Office version for the iPad may have robbed Microsoft of billions of dollars in revenue. (Reuters Insider:

“We estimate that if 10 percent of the iPad install base were to subscribe to Office then this could add 15 million subscribers and generate $1.1 billion to $1.5 billion in consumer Office subscription revenue per year,” Bernstein Research analyst Mark Moerdler said in a note on Tuesday.

Investors have for years urged Microsoft to adapt Office, its most profitable product, for iPhones and iPads and devices using Google Inc’s Android software rather than shackling it to Windows as PC sales decline.

Barclays analyst Raimo Lenschow said the plan to launch the iPad app would signal that Microsoft is moving towards a more serious cross-platform strategy.

Moerdler said he did not believe that the app would have any significant positive or negative impact on Microsoft’s Windows franchise as most corporate customers use Windows.

Microsoft already offers Office Online on its Windows smartphones and as a free Web-based version.

Google Inc has been making inroads into Microsoft’s Office software business with its free Google Drive application, which includes spreadsheets and word-processing tools.

Last year, Apple offered free upgrades for life on its iWork business software, which includes rival applications to Microsoft’s Excel, Word and PowerPoint, for Macbooks, Mac computers and iPad.

Microsoft shares were trading up 3.6 percent at $39.42 in midday trading on the Nasdaq.

(Reporting by Supantha Mukherjee and Soham Chatterjee in Bangalore; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty)