By Kaitlyn Schaeffer
Two new studies in the most recent edition of The Lancet suggest progress in the transplantation of lab-grown organs. “They both show that by using fairly simple tissue engineering techniques, you can get real tissue forming where it’s supposed to,” said Dr. Margin Birchall of University College London. The simple engineering methods utilized by both studies can be applied to grow other organs, such as the esophagus, bowels, and joint cartilage.
One study focused on a group of teenage women in Mexico who have vaginal agenesis – a disorder where a female never develops a vagina. Currently, surgeons use tissue grafts to construct vaginas for these patients, but this procedure is complicated and risky. Instead of creating the organ using graft tissue, researchers took a small tissue sample (less than half the size of a postage stamp) from the patients’ genitals, multiplied the cells in the lab, seeded them onto a biodegradable scaffold, and molded them into organs. The procedures were conducted in 2005, and the experiment follows up with the subjects every seven years. The women report having normal sexual lives and have not had any complications. If this procedure continues to be successful, it can be used to replace vaginas that have been damaged or have had to be removed for various reasons, such as cancer.
In the other study, Swiss researchers grew outer nostrils for skin cancer patients who had to have tumors removed from their noses. While the surgeons were extracting the tumors, they also took a small piece of nose cartilage. The cartilage was then taken to the lab to be grown into a flap. The flap was implanted back into the nose of each patient and covered using skin grafts from the patients’ foreheads. The researchers followed up with the patients a year after the procedures, and found that none of them had experienced any negative side effects and were happy with their new noses. Usually, the cartilage used for growing nostrils is taken from the patient’s ear or ribs.
“Now that we have demonstrated this is safe and feasible, we can use [this technique] for more complicated needs,” said Ivan Martin of University Hospital Basel.
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