Bio-Engineered Organs: Regenerative Medicine is Starting to Happen
This morning brings a feel good story that coincides with impressive new science – bio-engineered organs. In this instance, a little girl of 21/2 is now living with a bio-engineered windpipe. In essence, doctors built a scaffold to outline the windpipe and stem cells then recruited other cells to fill in around the scaffold. The technique also is being applied to others organs. The story is here – from the NYT. Set out below are key paragraphs on the science:
"The goal of regenerative medicine, or tissue engineering, is to create or regrow tissues and organs to ease transplant shortages or treat conditions that do not have an effective cure. After years of scant progress, tissue engineers have begun to make advances as they have gained a better understanding of the role that stem cells — basic cells that can become tissue-specific ones — play in signaling the body to grow and repair itself.
Still, only a few relatively simple organs have been made and implanted, and the science-fiction-inspired goal of ready-made hearts or other complex organs remains far off. Until now, the youngest recipient of a tissue-engineered organ was a 4-year-old spina bifida patient who received a bladder.
Dr. Macchiarini has performed the five other windpipe implants similar to Hannah’s. One patient, an American man who was operated on in Stockholm, has died. An Eritrean man has lived the longest so far, surviving for about 2 ½ years since the surgery.
To make Hannah’s windpipe, Dr. Macchiarini’s team made a half-inch diameter tube out of plastic fibers, bathed it in a solution containing stem cells taken from the child’s bone marrow and incubated it in a shoebox-size device called a bioreactor.
Doctors are not sure exactly what happens after implantation, but think that the stem cells signal the body to send other cells to the windpipe, which then sort out so the appropriate tissues grow on the inside and outside of the tube. Because the windpipe uses only the child’s own cells, there is no need for drugs to suppress the patient’s immune system to avoid rejection of the implant."