Scientists have created synthetic tissues that can rebuild themselves into any part of the body, a new study reveals.
The researchers developed a new compound that mimics DNA’s instructions for cells to turn into various tissues.
Using this method, the University of California, San Francisco team could effectively automate these cells to take on various structures and colors, a process akin to what happens in the early stages of natural embryonic development.
Exerting this level of control to create complex biological forms indicates that scientists may soon be able to stop 3D-printing organs and grow them the way nature does instead.
Scientists at the University of California, San Francisco have developed a system that lets them grow complex organs the way they would in the womb, a new study reveals
The world over is plagued by organ shortages, leaving a slim margin of hope for the 114,000 people waiting for a transplant.
Modern medicine has made leaps and bounds in the transplant field, improving odds of organ rejection, and finding ways to make more organs viable for transplant.
But it is not enough. Every day, an average of 20 people in the world die because they could not get a transplant in time.
The most cutting-edge labs are now circumventing shortages by 3D-printing and growing organs personalized to their recipients.
So far, however, only a limited number of organs have been successfully produced using these techniques.
Increasingly, scientists are using stem cells to grow organs just like a patient’s own. But right now, there only about 11 organs have been successfully made from scratch in labs, and many of these are miniature forms compared to those of adult humans.
Using 3D printers to make organs is cheap, generating excitement in the medical community, but they are really only capable of making flat organs like skin, blood vessels, or hollow organs, like the bladder.
‘People talk about 3D-printing organs, but that is really quite different from how biology builds tissues. Imagine if you had to build a human by meticulously placing every cell just where it needs to be and gluing it in place,’ said Dr Wendell Lim.
‘It’s equally hard to imagine how you would print a complete organ, then make sure it was hooked up properly to the bloodstream and the rest of the body.’
Study co-author Dr Kole Roybal in Dr Lim’s lab developed the SynNotch, the technology that allows scientists to program cells to communicate with and coordinate with one another to grow into fully-fledged tissues, cutting out the tedious work for doctors.
This represents an improvement, too, over previous organ-growing methods.
Even when organs grow big enough to be used in human patients, risky operations are required to transplant them and connect all the necessary blood vessels and nerves to make them functional.
‘Wouldn’t it be great, if we could grow a new organ directly in the body so that it specifically grows connected to the right places, where it’s supposed to be?’ said Dr Lim.
His system might allow for just that.
The SynNotch delivered instructions to the embryonic cells in the team’s experiments so that they formed the three foundational layers of an embryo.
Not only could the scientists program the cells to morph into particular forms and colors immediately, they could program them to grow slowly, over time, just like an embryo would.
‘The beauty of self-organizing systems is that they are autonomous and compactly encoded. You put in one or a few cells, and they grow and organize, taking care of the microscopic details themselves,’ Dr Lim said.