science | March 21, 2013

Personalized Medicine: Science Speaker Nina Tandon On Tissue Design at TED

Each individual's body is complexly unique. The problem with this, science speaker Nina Tandon says in a TED Talk, is that it can lead to major complications when you fall ill. Since our bodies are all different, and react differently and unpredictably to standard medical treatments, it can be difficult to treat health problems using a one-size-fits-all model. In her talk, Tandon presents a potential solution—personalized medical treatments that are tested on organs mimicking those of the patient. The tissue engineer and TED Fellow is on her way to doing exactly that—experimenting with pluripotent stem cells and computer chips to test drugs and treatments on miniature organs.

"One day," she says "we hope that these tissues can act as replacement parts for the human body." For now, however, Tandon is using her miniature organs as models to expedite and improve the drug testing phase. Currently, it costs billions of dollars and takes years for a drug to go from concept to market. Not only that, but even when it reaches the market, it can cause unpredictable reactions in different patients. Tandon's model organs provide a less expensive and less time consuming method than traditional testing. And, these tissues mimic the human response to drugs much more effectively than using rats. Tandon explains that perhaps the most intriguing part of her research is that her team can grow any kind of tissue from an individual's cells—and they will mimic that person's reactions specifically. Her methods even possess the potential to generate tissue from people with genetic diseases, so researchers can provide better treatments for people with specific ailments.

"Essentially, we're dramatically speeding up that feedback between developing a molecule and learning how it acts in the human body," she concludes. "Our process for doing this is essentially transforming biotechnology and pharmacology into an information technology—helping us discover and evaluate drugs faster, more cheaply, and more effectively." While she isn't quite at that stage yet, Tandon is well on her way to developing revolutionary medical advancements. In her exciting talks and post-secondary lectures, she explores the future of tissue engineering and the unbelievable potential that exists within the field.