by Dimitrios Beredimas, a blogger interested in stem cells
Stem cells have the potential to help treat many serious medical conditions, including heart failure, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, retinitis pigmentosa, and debilitating spinal cord injuries.
What if a dying person waiting for an organ transplant could receive a new organ grown from stem cells? Well, it may sound like science fiction, but it is not!
It’s true that scientists have yet to grow a complex organ like a heart or a kidney but they have been able to grow simpler ones that were later successfully transplanted into humans.
It all began in 2008, when Dr. Paolo Macchiarini became the first man to transplant an organ grown from stem cells. The organ was a trachea (windpipe) and the recipient was a 30-year-old mother of two, suffering from a collapsed airway following a severe case of Tuberculosis. The woman was hospitalized in March 2008 with acute shortness of breath and the doctors left her with only two options. Spend the rest of her life in the hospital, breathing through a machine or have a major operation to remove her left lung.
Later on, doctors came to her with a third option which had been tried only on animals. To transplant her with a new lab-grown trachea, to which she agreed.
To create the new organ, Dr Macchiarini first harvested stem cells from the patient’s bone marrow and seeded them into a 7 cm decellularised tracheal segment, harvested from a cadaver. Four days later, the segment was transplanted to the patient who started breathing just a few days later. Today, the patient is alive and well, living a normal and healthy life.
Since then, Dr Macchiarini has saved the lives of more than 10 people, transplanting them with lab-grown tracheas and oesophagus.
How about complex organs? According to Randy Ashton, a researcher at the University of Wisconsin working in the field of organ regeneration, the day when we will be able to order a heart on demand may not be that far away!
“It is definitely not unreasonable that in the next 20 years you will be able to regenerate a heart or a liver or a portion of spinal cord or a portion of the brain” says Randy.
Macchiarini, P., Jungebluth, P., Go, T., Asnaghi, M., Rees, L., Cogan, T., Dodson, A., Martorell, J., Bellini, S., Parnigotto, P., Dickinson, S., Hollander, A., Mantero, S., Conconi, M., & Birchall, M. (2008). Clinical transplantation of a tissue-engineered airway The Lancet, 372 (9655), 2023-2030 DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(08)61598-6
Growing organs from stem cells