By: Efime Popovitz, BS/MD Candidate, Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education
When Sarah Murnaghan received the long awaited adult lung after years of battling cystic fibrosis, she not only narrowly escaped her death sentence, but also brought to light a plight that thousands of individuals face each day- a struggle for the opportunity to receive an organ and the gift of life.1 Although the Murnaghans’ battle was successful, many are less fortunate and fall victim to the reality of the scarcity of donors. Recent bioengineering advances have attempted to address the issue with an unconventional but promising solution: the man-made organ. The notion of creating organs that can be successfully transplanted in humans may seem far-fetched. However, scientists have recently proven that such a cutting-edge solution is sensible.
In 2011, history was made when an artificial trachea was implanted in Andemariam Beyene, a patient in Sweden with tracheal cancer. Beyene’s implant surgery was the first ever transplantation of a generated organ in its entirety.2 The creation of organs lies heavily in the concept of developing a skeleton or scaffold on which human cells can form. In Beyene’s case, a plastic porous scaffold was bathed in his stem cells, so that the cells would develop on all surfaces of the tracheal scaffold and eventually result in a trachea compatible with the body. Despite the apparent success and prospect surrounding Beyene’s transplantation however, there is the challenge of integrating a man-made organ into the recipient’s body. The integration of the body’s blood vessel network with that of the developing specialized cells on the artificial scaffold is vital to the acceptance and function of the implanted organ. There is also the concern of scarring. However, lab generated organs preclude the possibility of a recipient’s body rejecting a transplanted organ, since the parts are created using the recipient’s own stem cells.3
Although the creation and successful transplantation of organs such as the trachea signify a step forward, there is far less progress in doing the same with more complex and demanded parts, like the heart and kidney. Ears, noses, and airways, given the nature of their structures, require less intricate scaffolds.1 The structural and functional complexi.ty of a heart, however, makes it far more difficult. A lab grown heart would demand scientists to establish an environment that can pump sufficient amounts of blood through the heart and generate an appropriate electrical signal for a pulse. 4 Even so, scientists are optimistic that transplantation of a heart or kidney is a reality that can be attained within the next decade.
- “Scientists growing livers, kidneys, ears in labs amidst organ shortage.” CBS News. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 June 2013. <http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-204_162-57589638/scientists-growing-livers-kidneys-ears-in-labs-amidst-organ-shortage/>.
- Park M. “Lab-made organ implanted for first time” CNN Health. July 8, 2011. <http://www.cnn.com/2011/HEALTH/07/07/trachea.transplant/index.html>.
- Fountain H. “Scientists Make Progress in Tailor-Made Organs – NYTimes.com.” The New York Times – Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 June 2013. <http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/16/health/research/scientists-make-progress-in-tailor-made-organs.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0>.
- Naik G. “Science Fiction Comes Alive as Researchers Grow Organs in Lab – WSJ.com.” The Wall Street Journal – Breaking News, Business, Financial and Economic News, World News & Video – Wall Street Journal – Wsj.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 June 2013. <http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323699704578328251335196648.html>.