Wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t need heart, liver, or kidney donors for transplant patients? Oh yes it would. For the first time scientists have grown a fully functional organ inside a living animal by transplanting cells that were originally created in a laboratory. This could be a huge breakthrough in medicine.
Reprogrammed cells created in a laboratory have been used to build a complete and functional organ in a living animal. British scientists produced a working thymus, a vital immune system “nerve center” located near the heart. Even though this technique has only been tested on mice, we could see more development in this field in the future so that patients who need replacement organs might not have to look for donors.
The procedure is quite tedious. Connective tissue cells from a mouse embryo were changed into a completely different cell strain by flipping a genetic “switch” in their DNA. The result of this was mixed with other thymus cells and then transplanted into mice where they grew spontaneously into a whole new structured, working organ. According to Professor Clare Blackburn, from the Medical Research Council Center for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, who led the team of scientists, the ability to grow replacement organs in a lab setting is probably the biggest thing in regenerative medicine, but she claims they are still far from this treatment being safe and effective for humans.
Being able to create a complete transplantable thymus from cells in a lab would be a huge step forward in treating patients with thymus disorders since there is a lack of donors. While several studies have shown it possible to create distinct cell types in a lab, such as a heart or liver, scientists haven’t yet been able to grow a fully intact and functioning organ from cells created outside the body. Modern science does not fail to shock us with its amazing discoveries.