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 the University of Texas Medical Branch are using autologous (the patient’s own) stem cells to successfully transplant entire lungs without the risk of rejection. In animal models, researchers obtained a lung from a donor and removed all blood and cells, leaving a lung scaffold. Then, they obtained autologous lung stem cells from the subject and seeded the lung scaffold so that the lung would be repopulated. This created a brand new lung for transplantation, comprised of cells that would not be rejected because they are the patient’s own. When implanted back into the body, the engineered lungs were able to grow and vascularize with no additional treatments or infusions. This protocol could potentially be expanded to provide life-saving organs for hundreds of thousands of patients waiting for organ transplants, which, besides the obvious shortage, still pose a risk of immune rejection.