A team from Northwestern University has developed a novel type of bioactive tissue that is thin and flexible enough to be folded into ‘origami-like’ shapes and could be used in a variety of treatment programs.

The ‘tissue paper’ was created from the structural proteins excreted by cells that give organs their form and structure, combined with a polymer to make the material pliable.

The researchers made the tissue papers from ovarian, uterine, kidney, liver, muscle and heart proteins that were obtained by processing pig and cow organs.

“This new class of biomaterials has potential for tissue engineering and regenerative medicine as well as drug discovery and therapeutics,” corresponding author Ramille Shah said in a statement. “It's versatile and surgically friendly.”

The cells are removed from the tissues, leaving the natural structural proteins—extracellular matrix—that are then dried into a powder and processed into the tissue papers.

Each paper has a type containing residual biochemical and protein architecture from its original organ that can stimulate cells to act in a certain way.

The researchers made tissue paper from a bovine ovary to grow ovarian follicles—eggs and hormone producing cells—cultured in vitro, which when grown on the tissue paper produced hormones necessary for proper function and maturation.

“This could provide another option to restore normal hormone function to young cancer patients who often lose their hormone function as a result of chemotherapy and radiation,” reproductive scientist Teresa Woodruff, a co-author on the study, said in a statement.

The ovarian paper with follicles could potentially be implanted under the arm to restore hormone production for cancer patients or women in menopause. Tissue paper made from other organs separately supported the growth of human adult stem cells when scientists placed human bone marrow stem cells on the tissue paper with all the stem cells attached and multiplied over the course of four weeks.

“That's a good sign that the paper supports human stem cell growth,” first author Adam Jakus, who developed the tissue papers, said in a statement. “It's an indicator that once we start using tissue paper in animal models it will be biocompatible.”