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Tuesday, 2 February, 1999, 11:06 GMT
Doctors herald grow-your-own organs
Six beagles received bladders created in incubators from their own cells
Six beagles received bladders created in incubators from their own cells
Internal organs grown in the laboratory have been successfully transplanted into animals for the first time.

The achievement heralds a new era in tissue engineering and transplant medicine in which patients could receive new organs made of their own cells.

Six dogs received new bladders constructed in the laboratory from cells multiplied from small samples of their original bladders. Only one month after the transplants the new organs looked and performed normally.

Even more encouraging was the fact that the "neo-organs" performed normally for another 10 months.

Twenty years of research

Being able to grow replacement organs to order has been a major goal for nearly two decades. The successful team is based in the Laboratory for Tissue Engineering at the Children's Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, US.

Speaking to BBC News Online, team leader Dr Anthony Atala said: "We're excited about the technology.

"Other organs have challenges of their own but our work shows us a glimpse of what awaits in the future."

Professor Karl Kadler of Manchester University, UK, hailed the work as an extremely exciting development.

"This is a rapidly expanding field - one of the fastest - and bigger advances still will come with the use of stem cells," he said.

Grow your own

The Boston team first took a biopsy of cells from the bladders of 11 beagles. They then cultivated the muscle cells and special bladder skin cells, called urothelial cells, for four weeks.

The cells were then fixed onto a polymer ball, the size and shape of a beagle's bladder.

The muscle cells were placed on the outside, the urothelial cells on the inside. Each layer of cells added was bedded down on the polymer by placing the artificial organ in an incubator.

When the artificial bladder was large enough, the dogs had their natural bladders replaced with the lab-grown ones.

The dogs urinated through catheters for up to a month to allow the new organ to adapt. After that the dogs were able to pass water normally.

'That's amazing'

Dr Christian Lorenz, of the University Hospital Mannheim, told BBC News Online: "It's an important step.

"To show that you can co-cultivate the two types of cells on a scaffold and that it then works in vivo - that's amazing."

He believes that if the experiments can be repeated in larger numbers of animals, then the method might well be used for humans.

Dr Atala's team has already successfully grown human bladder cells on a matrix in the same way. Now they are waiting to see if they act like the dog bladder cells.

Dr Lorenz said the only uncertainty was whether all the cells in the artificial bladder came from the "neo-organ". Fragments of bladder cells left in the dogs after their natural bladders were removed may have multiplied and added to the new organ.

The problem driving this type of research, and that of artificial organs and xenotransplantation - transplants between species - is the lack of donor organs available and the difficulties of rejection.

About 400 million people suffer from bladder disease worldwide and many would benefit from a transplant.

The research was published in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

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Dr Anthony Atala
reveals how his team grew new organs
See also:

12 Oct 98 | Health
Skin and bone bank
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