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Nina Tandon

Research Scientist, cooper union


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If your cells were used to grow an organ in the lab, is it still "your" organ?

Live TED Conversation: Join TED Fellow Nina Tandon

Nina Tandon is a postdoctoral researcher at Columbia University's Laboratory for Stem Cells and Tissue Engineering, Adjunct Professor of Electrical Engineering at the Cooper Union, and current MBA candidate at Columbia Business School. She studies ways to use electrical signals to grow artificial tissues for transplants and other therapies.

This conversation will open at 1pm EDT on October 3rd, 2011.


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    Oct 3 2011: OK, Nina, most people have been responding to the "What if you grew an organ" question, and I think that's interesting. But I don't really care about organs that much -- I'm more interested in products. For example:
    An artist team has been making bone wedding rings using actual bone cells from the couple. how does ownership work in this case? Cells make lots of great materials that makers could use -- horn, nails, teeth, hair, shell. If these are made from cultures obtained from people, how does the ownership work?

    Henrietta Lacks's HeLa cells may have lead to all kinds of incredible life-saving breakthroughs, but their legality is even now almost incomprehensibly convoluted.
    The tricky thing about cells is that they can be grown outside of people. And that means that a small culture that we might not miss, can go on to do gigantic things (like cure polio, for example).

    This is definitely an interesting question. And I want the answer too. Particularly when it comes to bikes made from bone :)
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      Oct 3 2011: Dominic THANK YOU for your points! And for targeting my real motivation (from a different angle, of course) for asking my question--that is, cells can do SO MUCH! they can make SO MUCH--gigantic things, as you say!

      How do we feel about that? Do we feel a sense of connection to those gigantic things that our cells can do, outside our bodies? does it affect how we appreciate the cells that are also doing gigantic things within our very own bodies?
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        Oct 3 2011: Dominic and Nina,

        I think the "gigantic things" angle is quite intriguing! Do you have an idea about the kind of consent form terms that exist currently during such cell donations? I mean, if you're donating an organ to someone (or even for research), I think most people know what the likely end-point is for the organ. But since cells can be grown and maintained for long periods of time, and can indeed generate 'anything' (depending on the cell, of course), there likely has to be a blanket consent for all uses, right?

        Regarding whether we appreciate the cells themselves, my guess is that a scientist or a scientifically aware person probably does... For most people though, even those that are aware of cells, the organ is bigger than the cells that make it (the phrase about 'the sum being bigger than it's parts')

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