Scientists' ability to 'grow' living organs boosts patient transplant hopes

Development that could one day be used to provide replacement organs for people with weakened immune systems

Science editor

Scientists have created the first functional organ in a living animal from reprogrammed cells in a development that could one day be used to provide replacement organs for people with weakened immune systems.

The thymus organ, a vital immune-system “nerve centre” near the heart, was initially grown in a laboratory from connective-tissue cells. It was then transplanted into laboratory mice, where it continued to grow and develop into a fully functional organ, the researchers said.

It is believed to be the first time that scientists have strung several technologies together to produce a working organ from stem cells which has been transferred into a living animal. It could lead to the transplant of “made-to-order” organs grown from a patient’s own skin cells, though such a breakthrough could take another 10 years and millions of pounds of research.

However, Paolo De Coppi, an expert on regenerative medicine at the Institute of Child Health at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, suggested an earlier time frame is possible. “Engineering of relatively simple organs has already been adopted for a small number of patients and it is possible that within the next five years, more complex organs will be engineered for patients using specialised cells derived from stem cells in a similar way as outlined in this [study],” he said.

“We’ve managed to produce an artificial cell type which when transplanted can form a fully organised and functional organ. This is an important step towards the goal of generating a clinically useful artificial thymus in the lab,” said Professor Clare Blackburn of the Medical Research Council Centre for Regenerative Medicine at Edinburgh University.

The thymus is a vital part of the immune system because it produces T-cells, which constantly guard the body against invading microbes, viruses and even rogue cancer cells.

People who lack a healthy thymus can be treated with infusions of immune cells or a transplant operation but there is a lack of donors and there are problems with matching tissue types. Being able to create thymus organs from a patient’s own cells would overcome the problem of organ rejection and supply, the researchers said.

“The ability to grow replacement organs from cells in the lab is one of the ‘holy grails’ in regenerative medicine.  But the size and complexity of lab-grown organs has so far been limited,” Professor Blackburn added.

Rob Buckle, the head of regenerative medicine at the Medical Research Council, said: “Growing ‘replacement parts’ for damaged tissue could remove the need to transplant whole organs from one person to another, which has many drawbacks, not least a critical lack of donors.”

The thymus organs created by the scientists were able to produce T-cells, a type of white blood cell, in the laboratory and displayed the hallmarks of a fully developed and functional organ.

The scientists started out by taking mouse fibroblasts and inducing them with a “transcription factor” that stimulated their development into thymic epithelial cells. After mixing these cells with other thymus cells in the laboratory, rudimentary thymus organs began to develop. These were then transplanted on to the kidneys of living mice.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants