Bioengineered organs may redefine transplants for humans someday, and even allow damaged organs to regenerate.
Northwestern University researchers are in the beginning stages of bioengineering tissues and entire organs from stem cells of adult rats and mice, said Dr. Jenny Zhang. Zhang directs the Microsurgical Core within the Comprehensive Transplant Center at Feinberg.
Once engineered, Zhang said her team will be able to test the functionality of such organs as transplants in the rodents. For now, Zhang and fellow researchers are using a biodegradable scaffold, a kind-of-skeleton of an organ with all living cells removed, to test the model.
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The mesenchymal stem cells found in the bone marrow can give rise to bone, fat, and muscle tissue, and have been used in hundreds of clinical trials for tissue repair.
Unfortunately, the results of these trials have been underwhelming, the main problem being that these stem cells do not stick around in the body long enough to benefit the patient.
Researchers have now found that transplanting mesenchymal stem cells along with blood vessel-forming cells naturally found in circulation improves results.
Mouse severely disabled by a condition similar to multiple sclerosis (MS) could walk less than two weeks following treatment with human stem cells.
When scientists transplanted human stem cells into MS mice, they expected no benefit from the treatment. They thought the cells would be rejected, much like rejection of an organ transplant.
Instead, the experiment yielded spectacular results.
Within a short period of time, 10 to 14 days, the mice could walk and run. Six months later, they showed no signs of slowing down.