Artificial organs – science fiction or reality?

Since the dawn of modern molecular biology and cell biology in the 1950s, many people have been dreaming of a day one can create organs in the laboratory from patients’ cell samples. Every year many patients die in hospitals due to malfunctioning or failing organs caused by various diseases or accidents. Organ transplantation from donors has many complications and remains risky due to the rejection of foreign tissues by the immune system.

Compatibility is often rare and researchers have been searching for a solution of this problem for a long time. In recent years there have been great advances in the new so-called field of tissue engineering, which focuses on the creation of human tissues and organs grown in the laboratory. One of the pioneering laboratories has been the Vacanti laboratory in Boston/ MA. The laboratory focuses on the interface between fundamental and translational research. Now, researchers at the Frauenhofer Institut in Stuttgart/ Germany have started to engineer human skin samples and aim to supply 5000 of these every month. Cambridge has just announced a meeting in October on musculoskeletal tissue engineering and Oxford even has a centre for tissue engineering actively involved in this research. The main advantage of the creation of tissues and organs from the laboratory is that they are virtually samples of one’s own body and will not face any rejection. Furthermore, such a technique could eliminate organ shortage, which costs so many lives every year.

However, the engineering of human tissues has been a great challenge for researchers. Until now successful applications in Europe have mainly been limited to the creation of new cartilage that can be transplanted.

Do we need to be afraid? Are all these laboratories fragments of our greatest nightmares stemming from science fiction movies and the fear of the unknown? Are we interfering with something better left alone?

These are all very valid ethical questions and need to be addressed before any such research is conducted. Furthermore, the public needs to know what people are doing and what public research money is spent on. I have been involved in biomedical research for a while now and am happy to comment on any of our readers’ comments.

What will organ transplantation look like in a decade from now? This is something that is likely to concern many of us in one way or another.

Image reproduced from http://newsroom.stemcells.wisc.edu

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