One of the holy grails of the biotechnology industry is the idea of using a patient’s stems cells to grow complete organs that can be transplanted into his or her body, avoiding rejection problems. A 3D printing news site reports that scientists at Harvard have taken a giant step toward the capability of creating functioning kidneys, the simplest organ that is regularly transplanted.
The Harvard scientists have been able to create functioning renal structures “containing living human epithelial cells, which line the surface of kidney tubules.” The structure mimics the function of a proximal tubule, a portion of the kidney that processes blood and then returns it safely to the human circulatory system.
Scientists are still some ways away from creating entire transplantable organs. Even the kidney is made up of different kinds of cells and structures, designed to process blood and urine, a crucial part of keeping the human body alive. In the meantime the artificial proximal tubule is giving scientists insights into renal function, which will likely lead to new medications and procedures to address kidney malfunctions that often lead to transplants.
Still, the eventual creation of a fully functional kidney with the same genetic makeup of the patient into whom it is being transplanted would be a huge development. Kidneys will likely be the first organs that can be grown out of the body and then implanted, with other organs, such as hearts and lungs, to follow. Not only will such a procedure end the problem of organ rejection but will also end the agonizing wait that many transplant patients must endure for a suitable donor.
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