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Science Fiction Comes Alive as Researchers Grow Organs in Lab

March 23, 2013
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Source: WSJ

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In additional to the artificial nose, Dr. Seifalian is making cardiovascular body parts. He sees a time when scientists would grow the structures needed for artery bypass procedures instead of taking a vein from another part the body. As part of a clinical trial, Dr. Seifalian plans to transplant a bioengineered coronary artery into a person later this year. His employer, University College London, has designated a person to oversee any future commercialization of it and other man-made organs.

The development of lab-built body parts is being spurred by a shortage of organ donors amid rising demand for transplants. Also, unlike patients getting transplants, recipients of lab-built organs won't have to take powerful anti-rejection drugs for the rest of their lives. That's because the bioengineered organs are built with the patients' own cells.

Until the late 1980s, few scientists believed it would be possible to make human organs because it was a struggle to grow human cells in the laboratory. The task became easier once scientists figured out the chemicals—known as growth factors—that the body itself uses to promote cellular growth.

Scientists started out growing simple organs. In 1999, Anthony Atala, director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C., implanted lab-grown bladders into the first of several children with severely dysfunctional bladders. The organs have continued to function well for several years. Dr. Atala's team now is trying to grow a whole range of bioengineered parts, from simple blood vessels to human livers.

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