by Lauren Dubinsky
, Senior Reporter | August 28, 2014
Researchers from the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh have successfully grown a fully functional organ using a living animal's transplanted cells that were created in a laboratory.
The organ they grew was a thymus, which is located next to the heart and produces T cells that guard against diseases.
The researchers took fibroblasts from a mouse embryo and reprogrammed them to turn those cells into thymus cells. When the reprogrammed cells changed shape to look like thymus cells, they also gained the ability to support the development of T cells in the lab, which only thymus cells are capable of.
The researchers then mixed the reprogrammed cells with other thymus cell types and transplanted them into the mouse. The cells formed a new thymus that had the same structure, complexity and function as a healthy adult thymus.
"We were surprised that we could grow a whole, organized organ using the experimental approach we took," Clare Blackburn, lead researcher and professor at the university, wrote to DOTmed News. "As we could think of several reasons why it might not work — we thought that the cells may all have become one of the types of thymic epithelial cell, rather than the entire array of types of thymic epithelial cell."
Patients with thymus disorders can be treated with either a thymus transplantation right after birth or infusions of extra immune cells, but there is a lack of donors and problems regarding matching the tissue to the recipient. But the researchers are hoping that the new lab-grown cells will eventually be the foundation of a thymus transplant treatment.
The technique might also be able to pave the way for making patient-matched T cells in the laboratory that can be used in cell therapies. That would bring benefits to bone marrow transplant patients by rebuilding their immune system faster after a transplant.
It will be able to help babies born with genetic conditions that prevent the thymus from developing properly and also elderly individuals, since the thymus weakens with age.
The next step is to test the technique on human patients and the researchers have high hopes that it will be successful. "We expect that these findings will be replicated in humans, as everything we have studied about human thymus biology suggests that the genes that control how the thymus develops are the same in human and mouse," wrote Blackburn. "But, we can't be sure that there won't be some unexpected obstacles until we test this."Back to HCB News