Tissue engineering has a relatively easy concept behind it. First, a patient’s stem cells are grown in the laboratory.
Then, they are added to a scaffold material. And ta da!
You have a laboratory-grown organ.
Despite this relatively simple process, only a few patients have benefited from its technology, but patients that have severe gastrointestinal issues desperately need this kind of solution, as current treatment options have a ton of problems.
In particular, individuals with short bowel syndrome (SBS) could benefit greatly from this kind of technology. These individuals have an abnormally small intestine which isn’t long enough to properly absorb nutrients, leading them to lifelong complications.
To learn more about short bowel syndrome (SBS), click here.
Even though these patients have a great need for engineered organs, is there a possibility for this to actually happen?
A research team from the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine is looking into this. In the first couple of years, the team was working just to develop a method that would help grow muscle cells carefully aligned in a single direction. This method would allow these cells to be better connected with other nerve cells when they were added to a cell culture a couple of days later. These cells then need to be transferred to small hollow tubes, eventually, making up the overall small intestine structure.
In studies so far, these engineered tubes were put into rats’ lower abdomens for four weeks in order to give natural blood vessels time to infiltrate the foreign structure. Following this phase, these tubes were secured to the small intestine, where they remained for six weeks.
Excitingly, after this period, researchers discovered that the cells in the lining of the gut, which are vital for absorbing nutrients from food, had begun to move into these genetically-modified tubes. Furthermore, food was found in these tubes, which indicated that proper digestion was occurring.
Even so, there are some large problems with tissue engineering that need to be worked out. Most importantly, it is very difficult to get all of the different cell types to work together in a coordinated fashion, especially when scaling this technology from small rodents to larger animals, and finally, to humans.
However, these preliminary findings suggest that an engineered human intestine could be a possible effective treatment for patients that suffer from short bowel syndrome and other gastrointestinal problems. So, the next steps for the team are to test these tubes in a larger animal model, before bringing them to a human clinical trial.
Hopefully, this pioneering research and tissue engineering method will continue to be clarified and perfected in the coming years.
To read more about this novel technology from Medical News Today, click here.
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To learn more about SBS, check out our partner Avery’s Angels.