Sooner rather than later you may be able to forget about the troubles of waiting for an organ donor, instead, you will be able to have one grown specifically for you from scratch. In fact, a lucky 36 year old man recently received the world’s first synthetically created windpipe, which was grown in a lab in London.
Paolo Macchiarini performed the surgery in Sweden’s Karolinska University Hospital, based on technology provided by Harvard Bioscience in Massachusetts.
“The big conceptual breakthrough is that we can move from transplanting organs to manufacturing them for patients,” says David Green, president of Harvard Bioscience. “This same concept would work best for simple organs such as tracheas, ureters and blood vessels.” Green went on to say that it was unknown at this time if the same technique could be used for more complex organs such as hearts, kidneys, and lungs.
In order to build the patient a new trachea, his being lost to cancer, Alexander Seifalian of University College London used a new polymeric nanocomposite material to build a scaffold with a similar size and shape as the patient’s original trachea. The properties of this novel polymer material include durability, flexibility and “millions of holes so living cells could grow on it,” says Seifalian.
Mesenchymal stem cells were then taken from the bone marrow of the patient a few days before surgery. They were poured over the polymer scaffold, which “grew” in a bioreactor supplied with a fluid of nutrients, according to NewScientist.com. These particular stem cells have the ability to turn into bone, muscle, fat and cartilage cells. The stem cells differentiated into normal trachea tissue because the environment in the bioreactor was specifically designed to trigger the growth of the right kind of cells. The recipe also included scraping skin cells off the patient’s nose and putting them inside the new windpipe, which sparked the growth of an epithelial layer.
Unfortunately, not all body parts can be as easily manufactured as windpipes, ureters or larynxes. Nervous tissue, for example, poses a great challenge for scientists to create for patients that may be affected by brain and spinal cord injuries or other nerve damage. The good news is that there is an enormous amount of focus around the world in regenerative medical research.
The University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Medicine launched their own Regenerative Medicine program in 2008, headed by Dr. Geoff Hicks, the program’s director and senior scientist. A newly constructed research area for the program, which is the only one in the prairies, will soon be located on the sixth floor of the Basic Medical Sciences Building on the university’s Bannatyne campus. The state of the art facility includes diverse stem cell research aimed at including everything from understanding cancerous stem cells to developing methods towards regeneration of muscle and nervous tissue and ultimately to therapeutically treat a wide range of disease.
Someday, there may be a lucky someone who will leave the hospital to live their life to the fullest again, not just because of work that was done in the capital of Sweden, or the greater Boston area, but also in the heart of prairies.