12 years ago, Dr. Anthony Atala, a leading stem cell specialist at Boston Children’s Hospital, created a lab-grown bladder from a patient’s own stem cells. The procedure involved obtaining a sample from the patient’s bladder, and culturing the stem cells to grow into a full-sized, functional bladder. 12 years following the procedure, the patient is thriving and has experienced no long-term adverse effects from the regenerated bladder. Since then, the differentiation protocols utilized to grow the bladder have been successfully adapted to grow other functioning tissues like skin, cartilage and urethras, which is indicative of the paradigm shift stem cells represent in treating organ deficiencies.
Researchers at Harvard Medical School have utilized stem cells to grow a functional small intestine in a lab. Using human stem cells, the researchers were able to differentiate them into intestinal cells and induced them to form a fully functional intestinal tissue. Previous studies have been successful at growing miniscule segments of the organ, but this innovative study has homed in on a method for compiling smaller, stem cell-derived tissue into an organoid that could soon be available to use in transplants as replacement for damaged organs. Patients who suffer from gastrointestinal tract ailments could benefit from this, in addition to patients who have had portions of their digestive tracts removed due to cancer.
Researchers at University of California San Francisco are utilizing stem cells to produce small, lab-grown organs that are helping identify the source of craniofacial birth defects. Children with these defects must endure a life of difficulties, including trouble breathing, seeing and speaking, due to the deformity of the face or head. However, with this advancement in research, UCSF’s team has been working on a drug that could treat the separation of mutated and normal cells, which is what typically leads to the deformities.