December 22, 2014
Scientist grow fully functional organ in living mice
A team of scientist from the University of Edinburg have created a fully functional organ for the first time by reprogramming and then injecting cells into living mice, in a breakthrough that could be used in the future in organ transplants.
The Scottish scientists grew a working thymus, a vital immune system "nerve centre" located near the heart that produces the so-called “T” cells that fight infections.
The technique, which has not been tested in humans so far, might help treat transplant patients, specially people with weakened immune systems. But scientist warned that it might take up to a decade before the treatment is safe for humans.
The process began with tissue cells from a mouse embryo that were reprogrammed into thymus cells which were then mixed with other cells and injected in mice. Once inside, the cells began to develop into a functional thymus.
"The ability to grow replacement organs from cells in the lab is one of the 'holy grails' in regenerative medicine. But the size and complexity of lab-grown organs has so far been limited,” Professor Clare Blackburn, who led the team of scientists, said.
“By directly reprogramming cells we've managed to produce an artificial cell type that, when transplanted, can form a fully organised and functional organ,” she added. “This is an important first step towards the goal of generating a clinically useful artificial thymus in the lab.”
Paolo de Coppi, consultant paediatric surgeon at Great Ormond Street Hospital and head of Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine at the Institute of Child Health, in London, said: "Research such as this demonstrates that organ engineering could, in the future, be a substitute for transplantation, overcoming problems such as organ donor shortages and by-passing the need for immunosuppressive therapy."
"It remains to be seen whether, in the long term, cells generated using direct reprogramming will be able to maintain their specialised form and avoid problems such as tumour formation," he added.