Oh, the mighty mouse – the tiny creature on whom humanity’s experiments have saved countless lives, and they’re up to it again. This time, scientists at the University of Edinburgh have managed to grow a fully functional organ inside a mouse, which opens up the possibility that one day we might be able to manufacture compatible organs for transplant from scratch – without the need for human donors.
How does it happen? According to Gizmag, researchers at the university’s MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine used mouse embryo cells to create an artificial thymus glad with the same structure and function of an adult organ, using a technique called “reprogramming.” The technique involves removing fibroblast cells, which form connective tissues in animals, from a mouse embryo and treating them with a protein called FOXN1 so they are changed into thymic epithelial cells. These cells are then mixed with other thymus cells and transplanted into living mice by grafting them to the kidneys.
In the experiment, over a period of four weeks the cells grew into a whole thymus gland that can produce T cells, which are an important part of the immune system, something that according to scientists goes beyond previous efforts because the thymus is such an important part of protecting the body against infection and eliminating cancer cells.
The team is now working on refining their technique in hopes of turning it into a practical medical procedure that could, for example, create a thymus gland made out of a patient’s own T cells. “Growing ‘replacement parts’ for damaged tissue could remove the need to transplant whole organs from one person to another, which has many drawbacks – not the least a critical lack of donors,” Rob Buckle, Head of Regenerative Medicine at MRC told Gizmag. “This research is an exciting early step towards that goal . . .”