Regenerative medicine is the field of research devoted not just to healing illness, but to replacing body parts from scratch. Consider it the equivalent of getting your car door re-sprayed or getting a new door. Just as the colour might not be right, organ and tissue transplants rarely perfectly match their recipients. Our individual genetic make-up means transplants risk rejection, inflammation and require chronic use of immunosuppressants that carry their own dangers and have nasty side-effects.
Added to the medical risk is a practical one: we are short of organ donors and finding the right match at the right time is probably more difficult than finding ‘the One’.
Thus, growing new organs, which seems preposterously sunk into the realms of futuristic science fiction, has not only become possible, but practical.
By stripping cells out of their component tissues scientists have uncovered the powers of the ECM (extracellular matrix) a fibrous scaffold that contains the perfect nutrients and growth factors for the tissue it’s designed for. Best of all, it contains very little immunoreactive components, meaning it can be seeded with the receiving individual’s own cells to create a brand new tissue that is genetically identical to the recipient’s own.
Previous regeneration attempts have concentrated on finding a synthetic material that will make a suitable scaffold, however these artificial materials tend to provoke an immune reaction or interfere with blood clotting. In the last 2 years it has become possible to grow and transplant human windpipes, blood vessels, bladders and pancreases. Now it is possible to print organs … using a simple desktop Hewlett-Packard! Maybe one day we will be able to receive new organs at the mere touch of a button. Here’s a video from Wired Science showing how they do it …