Scientists have grown an artificial liver that is set to revolutionise the medical world, it was revealed today.
A team based at Newcastle University have grown a tiny liver, believed to be the first of its kind in the world.
Using stem cells taken from umbilical cords, Dr Nico Forraz and Professor Colin McGuckin made the breakthrough.
The two scientists also took a trip to Houston, Texas, to work with scientists at Nasa.
And using some skills they learned at Nasa they were able to make the miniature livers, which can now be used for drug and pharmaceutical testing, eradicating the need to test on animals and humans.
Dr Forraz said: "We have taken a little bit of umbilical cord blood, and then it is all about enhancing things that already exist.
"We cannot build a fullsized liver yet. That will take about 10 years. But this is the first important step.
"We expect this to really take off in the next 18 months or so.
Livers are relatively simpler things to grow than 3 dimensionally more complex structures such as hearts and kidneys. So I'm expecting we'll see replacement livers before replacement hearts or kidneys.
As it stands, the mini organ can be used to test new drugs, preventing disasters such as the recent 'Elephant Man' drug trial. Using lab-grown liver tissue would also reduce the number of animal experiments.
Within five years, pieces of artificial tissue could be used to repair livers damaged by injury, disease, alcohol abuse and paracetamol overdose.
And then, in just 15 years' time, entire liver transplants could take place using organs grown in a lab.
These scientists intend to commercialize their work with their company ConoStem.
Liver replacement has applications beyond liver cirrhosis. First off, some people die from liver failure brought on by the trauma of accidents. Also, liver cancer is another kind of liver failure which kills people. Liver cancer cases that are now inoperable will become operable when it becomes possible to remove an entire liver and replace it with a new one.
For a number of types of organs replacement to treat cancer might end up saving more lives than replacement due to accidents and other diseases. Got pancreatic cancer? Replace it. Got kidney cancer? Replace it. Advances in testing will allow identification of a growing portion of all cancers before metastasis. If a cancer is still contained within a single organ then an excellent solution might some day be to just replace that whole organ. Though other ways to cure cancer might eventually avoid the need for this approach.
We can develop the technology to grow replacement parts for just about every part of the body and this can be accomplished within the lifetimes of most of the people reading this. So why aren't we trying much harder? Government research funding for stem cells and tissue engineering should be at least an order of magnitude larger.
|Share |||Randall Parker, 2006 October 30 10:05 PM Biotech Organ Replacement|