HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Tuesday, April 4, 2006

New Transplants

The Washington Post reports on an interesting new scientific development that may help with the organ donor shortage in the United States - a development that does not rely on embryonic stem cells.  According to the Post,

Researchers said yesterday that they have grown complete urinary bladders in a laboratory and transplanted them into patients, improving their health and achieving a Holy Grail of medicine: the first cultivation of working replacements for failing solid organs in people.

The "neo-bladders," each one grown in a small laboratory container from a pinch of a patient's own cells, have been working in seven young patients for an average of almost four years, according to a report released yesterday by the British journal the Lancet. The organs have remained free of the many complications that bedevil the conventional practice of surgically constructing bladders from other tissues.

If ongoing studies continue apace, the researchers said, they hope someday to offer patients more than a dozen other homegrown organs, including blood-vessel complexes, partial kidneys and perhaps hearts.

"It was really uncharted territory in terms of how you do these things," said Anthony Atala of Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C., who led the work with Alan Retik at Children's Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston. "We're very pleased with how well they're functioning."

Experts applauded the work as a coming of age for the long-struggling field of tissue engineering and as a possible way to bypass some of the controversy over embryonic stem cells.

Those versatile cells stir political trouble because obtaining them requires the destruction of human embryos. Although embryonic cells remain the most versatile biological building blocks, it now appears that at least some tissues, and even whole organs, can be generated without using the cells at all.

Should be interesting to see how this development continues and whether it can be used for other organs.  [bm]

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