Nina Tandon is a biomedical engineer in Brooklyn, New York. Her company, EpiBone, helps people by growing bone using a patient's STEM cells. "Discovering You: Engineering Your World" is produced by NBC News Learn in partnership with Chevron, the American Society for Engineering Education and the National Science Foundation.
Discovering You – Engineering Your World – Nina Tandon
NINA TANDON (Biomedical Engineer):
We can grow a jaw bone. People don’t necessarily have a sense of what does that mean? How big is that?
My name is Nina Tandon and I'm a biomedical engineer. I'm from New York City. I'm one of four kids. My two sisters are colorblind and my brother is night blind and has a degenerative retinal disease and so all of us really viscerally saw the world in different ways. And I think that's something that just stuck with me.
Biomedical engineering brings together engineers of all sorts, like electrical, like chemical. It's an interdisciplinary field that helps us understand how does the body work and how can we, as engineers, think about using that knowledge to create new technologies that help us live longer, healthier lives.
Now at the company, at EpiBone, it's really fun to put that into practice growing bone and cartilage.
Bone is actually the most transplanted human tissue after blood, whether it's for cancer, trauma, or congenital defects, we're really excited about being able to help these people. Right now what happens is if you need a new bone to help repair your ankle, you'll probably have it cut out of your hip. There's no bone that we can truly live without and it's painful to cut it out. So if we can grow a bone using just a little bit of fat tissue instead of taking a whole bone of ourselves, that saves a lot of pain. It saves a lot of surgical time. It's an easier healing process and we also think it's a more elegant solution.
We're using stem cells, the stem cells that grew our bodies in the first place. If stem cells grew our bodies and participate in repairing our bodies every day, we asked ourselves, "Can we use those same cells to grow new bones, new cartilage in the lab?" And the answer is yes, we can.
In order to grow bone, we take two things from the patient. First, we take a CT scan, which is like a three dimensional X-RAY. That's how we get the right shape, the puzzle piece. We use that puzzle piece shape to create a scaffold that's the right shape of the bone to generate a cell culture system that fits that perfectly. And then we take a piece of fat tissue from the patient. We can extract the stem cells out of that fat tissue and then infuse it into that cell culture system that we've built, that bioreactor. So just like they do in our body, where stem cells repair bone by turning into bone cells, we mimic those conditions in the bioreactor that we built. And after three weeks, we have a piece of bone that's ready for implantation.
We're really excited to be moving forward now into clinical trials because we've had such promising results in our experiments in the lab. It's a very creative job because we are trying to create a world that doesn't exist yet, a world in which people can grow their own body parts if they need them for surgery. It's so much fun to create, and in so doing, to help try and make the world a better place.
Although they are externally very different, internally, an elephant, a sunflower, and an amoeba are all made of the same building blocks. From the single cells that make up the most basic organisms to the trillions of cells that constitute the complex structure of the human body, each and every living being on Earth is comprised of cells. This idea, part of the cell theory, is one of the central tenants of biology. Cell theory also states that cells are the basic functional unit of living organisms and that all cells come from other cells. Although this knowledge is foundational today, scientists did not always know about cells.
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