Lab-grown organs – is the future closer than we think?


Australian Doctor reported on some pioneering research this week – researchers in the US have successfully transplanted lab-grown lung tissue into rats that works like the real thing. The pipe dream of organically grown organs has long been discussed in medical circles, but this breakthrough led us to consider whether the future might be closer than we think?

For years, transplant surgery has been the primary way of replacing severely damaged organs. Yet transplantation is one of the most challenging and complex areas of modern medicine – doctors must battle with organ rejections and transplant failure, as well as a major shortage of organs.

In June 2008, the world’s first whole tissue-engineered organ – the windpipe – was successfully transplanted into a 31 year old lady in Spain. 18 months on, she is leading a near-normal life without the need for immunosuppressants.

In cosmetics, ‘Reconstituted Human Epidermis’ (aka lab-grown skin) is already a reality – made from discarded skin during surgery, synthetic skin is being used to test the irritancy of chemicals as an alternative to animal and human testing. The technique has taken 30 years to perfect.

In the last few months, research teams have successfully created biologic blood vessels, corneal tissue and intervertebral discs. Next will be the development of a full-sized, functional organs. Moving one step further into the future, new research is investigating ways to use this technology to repair tissues and might one day prevent organ failure altogether.

However this area is surrounded by controversy. Whilst the development of lab-grown organs may benefit medicine, the use of stem cells continues to influence public opinion on whether or not research should continue. What do you think?

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