Editor's note: Deseret News medical writer JoAnn Jacobsen-Wells, who recently covered University of Utah chemistry professor D. Stanley Pons' speech at the American Chemcial Society convention in Dallas, also covered this news story.
New body tissues grown from "cell seeds" might some day reduce the shortage of organs in the United States, according to a Boston researcher.Dr. Joseph Vacanti of Boston Children's Hospital said fully 25 percent of children listed as candidates for liver transplants die before a liver becomes available.
In a dramatic approach to easing the critical shortage of many of kinds of donor organs, he and Robert Langer of MIT are attempting to grow new body cells from seed cells.
Langer announced their progress at the 197th national of the American Chemical Society. The researchers hope that one day, a parent could donate cells from his or her liver. The cells could be re-configured into a polymer scaffolding and surgically implanted into a small child to function as replacement liver tissue.
The researchers are developing polymer systems, or long-chain molecules, that provide the 3-dimensional scaffold for growing new tissues. In animal studies, they already have seeded their polymer systems with liver, cartilage and intestine cells. They are grown in tissue in the laboratory and later successfully transplanted into living animals for short periods of time.
In current studies lasting up to three months, the evolving activity, structure, and function of the organ tissues are being monitored. For instance, Langer said, liver cells produce the protein albumin, and the scientists have been able to confirm that the transplanted cells also produced albumin while in animals.
Langer said the polymers he is using are biodegradable, so ultimately, all of the scaffolding disappears and the new tissue appears relatively normal. In addition, by placing appropriate growth factors or adhesive in the polymers, new blood vessels and other critical components can be engineered in the right way from the beginning.
Much more research is needed before it will be known if growing new organs can be a viable alternative to donated organs, but the scientists are encouraged by their results so far.
Each year between 1,200 and 1,500 liver transplants are performed in the United States, yet 30,000 still die of liver disease, Langer said.
"Clearly, the need is great, and we have to find solutions to the shortage of organs," he said.