Science fiction medicine from Sweden
Imagine you were able to simply replace one of your organs once you fall sick. You just go to the hospital and quickly come out with a new intestine, kidney, liver or even heart, if an incurable disease was present. This sounds more like an idea from a science fiction movie than a like a feasible therapeutic option, but research on regenerative medicine and the engineering of “artificial” organs is happening to make these options a reality for many patients worldwide in the near future.
Nowadays, chronic diseases are a major health issue in almost every country – they cannot be cured and the patient’s best bet is to prevent those diseases and their complications. We are talking about e.g. diabetes, heart and kidney failure, hepatic disease and hypertension. After treatment has failed the last resort for many patients is organ transplantation. However, as simple as it may sound, there are countless complications involved, as the organ has to be compatible with the patient. The patient will have to remain on medication to lower his immune system response to the minimal for the rest of his life, which can make him more vulnerable to infections.
By the year 2010, over 90,000 people were signed in for the waiting list for a kidney transplant in the US and 3,000 at any given day for a heart transplant. Many patients who have no other choice of treatment wait, and most of the times death arrives faster than the suitable organ.
What if you could build a custom-made organ according to a patient’s need? A group of biomedical researchers at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden have pioneered what can be the first step in the beginning of a science fiction medicine: working with stem cells, which are cells capable of giving rise to any human tissue. They have managed to make a fully artificial trachea from scratch and implant it in a patient with cancer without any immunological reaction. The newly formed organ is built on a PET mold, yes the same used in bottles, which is as anatomically identical to the patient’s actual trachea – not only in shape but also in composition. The mold is filled with stem cells from the patient himself. Giving rise to a new and fully functional organ ready to be replaced.
The patient who went under this treatment is currently under annual checkups while living a normal life without health related restrictions. This is only the first step, but it is a firm step.
Thanks to Antonio Beltrán Rodríguez for sharing this post with our silverevolution-readers. Antonio is a biomedical student at Karolinska Institutet. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org