Researchers at Gregorio Maranon hospital in Madrid, Spain told Yahoo! AFP and physorg.com that within 5 years it may be possible to regenerate organs using “scaffolds” from the donor and the recipient’s own stem cells to significantly decrease rejection and increase the number of organs available for donation.
The process requires that the donor organ be stripped of its cells, leaving only the structural support. By stripping the organ, even damaged organs that would not be suitable for donation can be used. Then recipient’s stem cells are taken and applied to the scaffold in an environment where the stem cells differentiate and re-grow the organ. They already have eight heart “scaffolds” and hope to partially regenerate one of them by the end of the year.
Madrid’s Gregorio Maranon hospital has been a pioneer in using adult stem cells, being the first to treat a man’s heart with stem cells from his fat tissue that was removed by liposuction. Spain has also worked hard to lead the world in organ donation with a highly coordinated network among all its hospitals to identify potential donors.
I believe this method of regenerating organs will not only increase organ donation and, but it could also allow researchers to better understand how organs develop and learn more about congenital defects that occur in organs such as the heart. Studies could be conducted to determine if exposure to certain compounds leads to problems in organ development specifically in humans.
Drug studies could be conducted in animals and with human bioartificial organs concurrently to determine if what is observed in animals correlates to humans and the organs may ultimately serve as a better predictor of benefits and side effects. I believe that animal studies are very important to medical research, but the results observed in animal do not always correlate to what is seen in humans. Organs could also be created to develop diseases such as cancer so researchers could watch the course of the disease and determine what treatments are most effective and halting and/or reversing it.
Of course there is the limitation of working within one system, but I believe that studying a whole organ is superior to studying cells in a petri dish. Organs contain multiple cell types with different functions and being able to understand how they all interact would provide medical researchers with a more realistic understanding of diseases, which will hopefully lead to the development of better and more effective treatments.
[img credit: GDS Infographics