Lab grown thymus
Lab-grown replacement organs have moved a step closer, thanks to a major breakthrough by researchers at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. Scientists have for the first time grown a complex, fully-functional organ from scratch in a living animal by transplanting cells that were originally created in a laboratory. The researchers created a thymus – an organ next to the heart that produces immune cells known as T cells that are vital for guarding against disease. With further research, this discovery could lead to new treatments for elderly patients and others with a weakened immune system.
The team from the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh took cells called fibroblasts from a mouse embryo. They turned the fibroblasts into a completely different type of cell called thymus cells, using a technique called reprogramming. The new cells changed shape to look like thymus cells and were also capable of supporting development of T cells in the lab – a specialised function that only thymus cells can perform.
When the researchers mixed reprogrammed cells with other key thymus cell types and transplanted them into a live mouse, the cells formed a replacement organ. This new organ had the same structure, complexity and function as a healthy adult thymus. It is the first time that scientists have made an entire living organ from cells that were created outside of the body by reprogramming.
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