New organs can be grown in body

A novel technique enabling vital new organ tissue to be grown in a special bio-chamber in the body has been developed by scientists at the University of Melbourne and the Bernard O’Brien Institute of Microsurgery (BOBIM).

The technique involves growing cells inside a ‘non-reactive biocontainer’ which, placed in rats, sees the cells mature into fully functional tissues and organs.

Using this breakthrough technology, scientists at BOBIM have successfully produced sufficient tissue to replace a breast.

The University’s Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering has collaborated in the project, making the special growth chamber according to a prototype supplied by BOBIM.

The University’s Department of Medicine at St Vincent’s Hospital provided expertise in growing heart muscle cells known as cardiomyocytes in culture.

The new technique is the first step to creating entire new organs to replace diseased and injured body parts using a patient’s own tissue, says research team leader and BOBIM Director Professor Wayne Morrison, the University’s Professor and Head of Surgery at St Vincent’s Hospital.

Until now researchers have been able to make only two-dimensional constructions, such as skin, in the laboratory.

Professor Morrison sees the new approach having potential for repairing many other tissues and organs including muscle (skeletal and beating heart tissue), organoid (pancreas and liver) and glands (hormone secreting, pituitary and sinus).

“This important discovery has huge ramifications for the thousands of people worldwide whose survival depends on transplants — especially heart patients,” Professor Morrison says.

“There is a chronic shortage of organs and tissues for transplantation and reconstructive surgery. Fortunately, tissue engineering has the potential to address conditions responsible for half our healthcare costs.

“As the Australian population ages, we are faced with an ever-increasing number of people suffering from impaired healing of damaged or diseased organs and tissues,” he says.

Professor Morrison says tissue engineering is a new area of medicine in which entire new tissues can be created using bio-degradable ‘scaffolds’ and stem cells. Obtaining them from the patient’s own body avoids problems of immune rejection.

“It was a very exciting moment to discover beating tissue. This research discovery has great potential to improve the treatment of disease and organ failure in Australia and the world,” he says.

The discovery is unique in combining cells, supportive matrix, blood vessels and a growth chamber in vivo and in being the first to enable the successful growing of larger tissues and organs.

The Chemical and Bio-molecular Engineering team’s contribution, led by Dr Andrea O’Connor and Professor Geoff Stevens, included developing tissue engineering scaffolds, chambers and controlled delivery systems for growth factors used by the BOBIM researchers.

The Federal Government provided $300 000 to help kick-start the BOBIM tissue engineering project and the Institute has won more than another $2 million in grants to support the research.

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