In the future, people suffering from kidney problems may be able to use international health insurance policies to have a laboratory-grown organ put in their body, with a study published in Annals of Surgery suggesting scientists have reached a milestone in this area.
Wake Forest Baptist Medical Centre regenerative medicine researchers have successfully created support structures – known as scaffolds – that could eventually be utilised to create human kidneys.
They used organs from a pig to do so and intend to eventually be able to remove all the animal cells from the body part, leaving behind just the item's structure.
A patient could then put their own cells on this organ structure, which would create a transplantable organ, which international healthcare experts theorise would not be rejected by the recipient's immune system.
Currently, doctors use tissue-typing to try and find a transplant organ that is less likely to be rejected by a person, with the US National Library of Medicine explaining medical professionals locate body parts with a similar type of substance called antigens.
Only identical twins share the make-up of tissue antigens, so expatriate health insurance providers and doctors typically use drugs that suppress the immune system after a person receives a donor kidney.
Furthermore, Wake Forest Baptist instructor in surgery and regenerative medicine and lead author of the published study Dr Giuseppe Orlando pointed out there is a "critical shortage of donor organs".
Research co-author and director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine Dr Anthony Atala said there are still "many challenges" that will have to be overcome before replacement kidneys can be grown in laboratories.
"The kidney is a very complex organ with at least 22 different cell types," he remarked, noting blood clots also form in the cells of the body part at present.
However, the maintenance of the nephron "scaffold" structure suggests to scientists that the body part could eventually be repopulated with cells, with the scientists speculating chemical signals would help the cellular bodies find their own biological niche within the kidney.
Regenerative medicine has already engineered a number of products in laboratory settings and implanted these into the human body with success, with trachea, urine tubes, blood vessels, skin, bladders and cartilage all successfully created in labs and transplanted into people.
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