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First successful lab-grown organ reported

Left: Specialised thymus cells were created in the lab from a completely different cell type using reprogramming. Right: The laboratory-created cells were transplanted onto a mouse kidney to form a functional mini-thymus in a living animal.
Left: Specialised thymus cells were created in the lab from a completely different cell type using reprogramming. Right: The laboratory-created cells were transplanted onto a mouse kidney to form a functional mini-thymus in a living animal.
MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine, University of Edinburgh

A team from the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh is the first to grow a viable organ from laboratory manipulated cells. The thymus produced has grown to maturity in a mouse. The research was published in the Aug. 24, 2014, issue of the journal Nature Cell Biology.

The researchers reprogrammed fibroblasts from a mouse embryo into fully functional thymus cells that were capable of growing a thymus. The thymus is an organ that produces T-cells that support immune response to disease. The thymus cells grown in the laboratory were determined to be capable of producing T-cells before the cells were transplanted into a mouse. The growing thymus was transplanted into a mouse kidney.

The transplanted thymus cells produced a functioning thymus that is capable of all the functions of a naturally grown thymus. This is the first successful long-term organ growth in a living animal that was originated from a laboratory-grown organ. The implications for organ transplant and disease control are huge.

A new thymus or a second thymus could alleviate many of the immune system diseases that plague mankind including potentially HIV. The development of a new thymus could produce patient specific T-cells that are naturally adapted to an individual’s body. There is no potential for rejection because the body recognizes a lab-grown thymus as a part of itself. A lab-grown thymus could also help prevent the rejection of transplanted organs and prevent some of the detrimental effects of aging.

This development proves that new organs can be grown in the lab, transplanted, and assume the normal function of the particular organ in record time. Fibroblasts can be obtained from several sources. While still in its infancy, this development could be one of the first steps toward infinite life for people through organ replacement with lab-grown organs.