Growing Organs Wins PM Award

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Tonight is the Popular Mechanics Breakthrough Awards 2006.  The one medical innovation they got right is a technique for growing organs in the lab.  I was at a keynote lecture on this technology some years ago at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.  I do not think the lay press has really grasped the scope of this amazing breakthrough approach.  Its not just a single technology but a new pathway to bio-engineering.  The breakthrough concept is of a “bioscaffold”  These backbones are created from polymers and collagen and form the structural underside of an engineered organ.  The scientist/organ farmer then takes biopsies from the patient’s own body organ of interest.  The different cellular types are separated and then grown in culture.  This is no easy trick because after a few days in culture most human cells lose ther particular features.  I have done these experients when I was at Yale and we were trying to figure out how the human fallopian tube’s inner cells work.  What happens is each particular specialized cell slowly become just generic and loses its unique organ specific features.

Back to the artificial organs– What’s amazing here is that after a brief growth in the lab dish the different specialized cells are reassembled layer by layer onto the artifical skeleton and by some miracle they reorganize in their normal configuration reforming a functional organ. The best success has been with bladders.  I know work is ongoing with kidneys (bye bye dialysis and transplants) hearts (bye transplants) pancreas (bye to juvenile diabetes) among 20 or so total organs.  You know the artifical penis is on the way. 

All kidding aside  as a fertility specialist the dream success is the artifical uterus.  Today there are no options for the countless women who can’t have children due to loss of the uterus except a surogate.  At >$100,000 a pop, illegal in NY (yes its true), and ethical and religious issues everywhere this would be a dream come true.  I have 2 patients in their 20′s with this problem who figure they will see success in the next 20 years before its too late for them.  They call every few months for updates.  THe progress here is so significant that artifical organ are on the horizon.

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