With a growing shortage of hearts, lungs, livers and kidneys suitable for transplant, some scientists are growing organs in the lab in the aim to solve the problem. Enter the field of “Regenerative Medicine”.
Will we soon be hearing calls from the emergency rooms of “Quick, print me another liver for this patient”?
Following is a TED talk from Anthony Atala discussing this innovative field of medicine.
Essentially this type of medicine is about using specific ‘bio materials’ to implant into your body to encourage growth or the science of using your own cells to regenerate tissue, or a combination of both. One hindrance to the development of this field, even though being initiated as early as 1938 by Alexis Carrel and Charles Lindbergh in the origins of the culture of organs, was the access to suitable materials which could be placed inside the body. Now this problem has been solved, and is being improved upon each day. Another problem was to get cells to grow outside of the body, which is still a problem with some cells today.
Following is an image example of bio material being inserted to assist in the regeneration of tissue in a damaged organ.
Surgeons, Joseph Vacanti from the Boston Children’s Hospital in Massachusetts and David Cooper from the University of Cape Town Medical School, are leading the charge in this revolutionary new field of medicine. The frustration of having to wait for a suitable person to die to be able to find a suitable donor was too much for them to bare, surely there was a solution to this need.
Simple structures like bladders are already being grown over biodegradable polymer scaffolds outside of the body as shown in the video (5:32) here was made by a Anthony Atala’s team at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. They take a small part of the original bladder and grow the new bladder over the bio material in an oven-like device which simulates the human body at 37 degrees C and 95% oxygen. Using this process, they can create a new bladder in about two weeks.
Such organs, grown from a patient’s own cells, should avoid the problems of immune rejection that plague the field of xenotransplantation. “Cartilage, skin, and bone are already on the market. Blood vessels are in clinical trials. The progress has been really gratifying,” says Laura Niklason of Yale University.
Tissues that is either flat planes or hollow tubes—are relatively simple to produce, and consist of a small number of cell types. Solid organs, such as the heart, lungs, kidney and liver pose a greater challenge as they are more complex structures and some of these cells are as yet unable to be grown out of the body. Uncertainty as to whether this will become common place with 5 or 100 years is currently being mooted.
Another amazing advancement is printing biological material. Yep! Printing. See 7:40 in video and following picture. A successful application of this has been printing bone and implanting of it into subjects.
Advancements of this are being developed to print directly onto the patient, ala ‘The 5th Element” movie. Further advancements in this field enable extremely high quality medical imaging to ‘scan’ a patients kidney, as an example, to then print a new replica of it to be implanted. Still years away from real world human application, but a stunning step in a positive direction.
One thing is for sure, this is a clear solution to the future or human health. Well….it’s that or Star Trek like abilities to stem disease with the wave of a ‘magic wand’.
One can hold great faith in the certainty of evolution of technology and knowledge which bodes well for the future of the fragile human race.