Haylie Helms’s cells are stuck to the side of a clear plastic bottle like thousands of invisible barnacles.
“If you stick them in one of these flasks and give them the right [nutrients], the cells continue to grow and they will spread out on the plastic,” she explains as she starts to tap the bottle with the side of her palm.
The shallow pink liquid in the bottle ripples under the impact. As the cells pull away from the side, the liquid becomes slightly hazy. Helms transfers the solution to a test tube and spins it down in a centrifuge.
When it comes out, the liquid is clear again and there’s a faint whitish smudge in the bottom of the tube.
“So it’s not the easiest to see, but… there’s a little clump there at the bottom,” she says. “There’s about a million cells in that little pellet.”
Cells are the tiny building blocks of life, and these cells are key to the Oregon Health and Science University researcher’s cutting-edge work in a medical science field called biofabrication – essentially building with biology. One of the long-term goals for biofabrication is creating transplantable human organs.