In a north London hospital, scientists are growing noses, ears and blood vessels in the laboratory in a bold attempt to make body parts using stem cells. It is among several labs around the world, including in the U.S., that are working on the futuristic idea of growing custom-made organs in the lab.
While only a handful of patients have received the British lab-made organs so far— including tear ducts, blood vessels and windpipes—researchers hope they will soon be able to transplant more types of body parts into patients, including what would be the world's first nose made partly from stem cells.
"It's like making a cake," said Alexander Seifalian at University College London, the scientist leading the effort. "We just use a different kind of oven."
During a recent visit to his lab, Seifalian showed off a sophisticated machine used to make molds from a polymer material for various organs.
Last year, he and his team made a nose for a British man who lost his to cancer. Scientists added a salt and sugar solution to the mold of the nose to mimic the somewhat sponge-like texture of the real thing. Stem cells were taken from the patient's fat and grown in the lab for two weeks before being used to cover the nose scaffold. Later, the nose was implanted into the man's forearm so that skin would grow to cover it.
Seifalian said he and his team are waiting for approval from regulatory authorities to transfer the nose onto the patient's face but couldn't say when that might happen
The potential applications of lab-made organs appear so promising even the city of London is getting involved: Seifalian's work is being showcased on Tuesday as Mayor Boris Johnson announces a new initiative to attract investment to Britain's health and science sectors so spin-off companies can spur commercial development of the pioneering research.
The polymer material Seifalian uses for his organ scaffolds has been patented and he's also applied for patents for their blood vessels, tear ducts and windpipe. He and his team are creating other organs including coronary arteries and ears. Later this year, a trial is scheduled to start in India and London to test lab-made ears for people born without them.
"Ears are harder to make than noses because you have to get all the contours right and the skin is pulled tight so you see its entire structure," said Dr. Michelle Griffin, a plastic surgeon who has made dozens of noses and ears in Seifalian's lab.
"At the moment, children who need new ears have to go through a really invasive procedure involving taking cartilage from their ribs," Griffin said, adding that taking fat cells from patients' abdomens to add to a lab-made ear scaffold would be far easier than the multiple procedures often necessary to carve an ear from their ribs. Griffin added they plan to eventually create an entirely synthetic face but must first prove their polymer scaffolds won't accidentally burst out of the skin.
"Scientists have to get things like noses and ears right before we can move onto something like a kidney, lungs or a liver, which is much more complicated," said Eileen Gentleman, a stem cell expert at King's College London, who is not involved in Seifalian's research.
"Where Seifalian has led is in showing us maybe we don't need to have the absolutely perfect tissue for a (lab-made) organ to work," she said. "What he has created is the correct structure and the fact that it's good enough for his patients to have a functional (windpipe), tear duct, etc. is pretty amazing."
Some scientists predicted certain lab-made organs will soon cease to be experimental.
"I'm convinced engineered organs are going to be on the market soon," said Suchitra Sumitran-Holgersson, a professor of transplantation biology at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden. She has transferred lab-made blood vessels into a handful of patients and plans to offer them more widely by 2016, pending regulatory approval. Still, she acknowledged doctors will have to watch closely for any long-term side effects, including the possibility of a higher cancer risk.
Seifalian estimated about 10 million pounds ($16 million) has gone into his research since 2005 but said he hoped lab-made organs would one day be available for a few hundred dollars.
"If people are not that fussy, we could manufacture different sizes of noses so the surgeon could choose a size and tailor it for patients before implanting it," he said. "People think your nose is very individual and personal but this is something that we could mass produce like in a factory one day."
A surgeon in China says he has constructed an extra nose out of a man's rib cartilage and implanted it under the skin of his forehead to prepare for a transplant in probably the first operation of its kind.
A 36-year-old man who had tracheal cancer has received a new lab-made windpipe seeded with his own stem cells in a procedure in Sweden they call the first successful attempt of its kind, officials said Thursday.
(Medical Xpress)—Researchers in Spain, led by doctor Francisco Fernandez-Aviles, are blazing a trail in bioengineering that could result, the Wall Street Journal reports, in human hearts, or parts of them, being grown in a lab and transplanted into live patients, within ...
(Medical Xpress)—A team of researchers with the University of Texas has, for the first time, successfully grown a human lung in a lab. Project leads Dr. Joaquin Cortiella and Dr. Joan Nichols announced ...
By the time 10-year-old Sarah Murnaghan finally got a lung transplant last week, she'd been waiting for months, and her parents had sued to give her a better chance at surgery. Her cystic fibrosis was threatening ...
Genes are important, but diet may be even more important in determining the relative abundance of the hundreds of health-shaping bacterial species comprising an individual's gut microbiota, according to UC ...
Saint Louis University research findings published in the December issue of Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy report a family of molecules known as nucleotidyltransferase superfamily (NTS) enzyme inhibi ...
The enzyme telomerase repairs cell damage produced by ageing, and has been used successfully in therapies to lengthen the life of mice. Now it has been observed that it could also be used to cure illnesses ...
Eating bilberries diminishes the adverse effects of a high-fat diet, according to a recent study at the University of Eastern Finland. For the first time, bilberries were shown to have beneficial effects on both blood pressure ...
Please sign in to add a comment.
Registration is free, and takes less than a minute.
Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.