Living In Science Fiction: 2013 Edition
March 23, 2013 11:57 AM   Subscribe

Science Fiction Comes Alive as Researchers Grow Organs in Lab
1997 -- Charles Vacanti of University of Massachusetts Medical Center and Robert Langer of Massachusetts Institute of Technology report the growing of a cartilage structure – in the shape of a human ear – on a mouse’s back. 2008 -- Doris Taylor at the University of Minnesota and colleagues grow a beating rat heart in the lab. 2008 --Surgeons in Spain transplant a new windpipe into a patient. The organ is made from a cadaver windpipe stripped of its original cells and reseeded with the patient’s own cells. 2010 -- Researchers at Mass General Hospital grow a rat liver. 2010 -- Yale University scientists grow a functioning rat lung. 2010 -- Alex Seifalian in London transplants a lab-made tear duct into patient 2011 -- Dr. Seifalian makes a windpipe from nanocomposite materials plus a patient’s own stem cells; the new windpipe replaces the patient’s cancerous one, saving his life. In a separate procedure, an artery made at Dr. Seifalian’s lab is transplanted into a patient. 2012 -- Surgeons in Sweden transplant a major blood vessel into a 10-year-old girl. The vein was taken from a dead man, stripped of its tissue, then reseeded with the girl’s own cells. 2013 -- Scientists from Cornell University report the making of a human ear using living cartilage cells.
posted by jason's_planet (21 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Almost makes me want to go back in time and major in life sciences instead of CS. I just hope my insurance covers this stuff when I need some new parts.
posted by jeffamaphone at 12:10 PM on March 23, 2013

More on the rat lungs
posted by jason's_planet at 12:15 PM on March 23, 2013

The idea of growing an ear is just making me think of that opening scene in Blue Velvet.
posted by dismas at 12:21 PM on March 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

posted by klangklangston at 12:37 PM on March 23, 2013 [4 favorites]

Speaking of blue velvet, this could really throw a monkey wrench into crime forensics.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 12:46 PM on March 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm always impatient about these things. This is all 'researchers', 'experiments', labs', and one or two surgeries in the last few years. When is this going to be considered normal, boring, standard practice?

A guy gets in a motorcycle accident. The ambulance takes him to the local hospital. Looking at the man's face, the ER doctor calls in to start up an ear growth. Just another day at the hospital. What will it take to get from here to there?
posted by eye of newt at 12:49 PM on March 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

Speaking of blue velvet, this could really throw a monkey wrench into crime forensics.

Oh I just came up with the best idea for faking my own death.
posted by crayz at 12:55 PM on March 23, 2013

Lest we forget ...
posted by ZenMasterThis at 1:00 PM on March 23, 2013

That "Lest we forget . . . " link above is NSFW-ish. Funny as shit, of course, but I thought I'd warn others because . . . well, because I'm uptight about that sort of thing. I own it.
posted by jason's_planet at 1:06 PM on March 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

What will it take to get from here to there?

And what will it take to get health insurance that covers it?
posted by ceribus peribus at 1:22 PM on March 23, 2013

Dr. Seifalian stopped by a rotating machine that periodically shook a jar filled with a pink liquid. Inside was a human nose. A sign on the machine warned: "Nose scaffold for clinical use. Do Not Touch. Thank you, Lola." (Lola is a research assistant.)
Lola: I suspect you over-estimate the odds of passers by choosing to touch!

Kidneys are not mentioned but I think those are perhaps the organs with the greatest gulf between demand and supply. And perhaps they too will be here before too long.
posted by rongorongo at 1:34 PM on March 23, 2013

Does this mean I can smoke a cigarette now and then?
posted by vrakatar at 1:49 PM on March 23, 2013

Glad you posted this - I was getting to it today, and am glad to see it here!

Yes, kidneys are the organ that is most in demand. The waiting list for a kidney is typically 3-5 years, depending on your location and blood type. Five years on dialysis. I don't want to think about it.

There are 95,578 people on the waiting list for a kidney in the United States as of today. On January 24th, there were 95,089 people on the waiting list. That list grows pretty fast.

I hope that by the time I need my next transplant they can grow me a kidney. My dad donated my first transplant and my mom donated my second and now I don't know of anyone who can give me a kidney when I need it. The other option is that some people are using the Internet to locate kidney donors - I did a study on this recently and (this is a self link) here are some of the results. Fascinating stuff, but it's really just a stopgap at this point, in my opinion. Growing the kidneys in a lab would be amazing. Fingers crossed.
posted by k8lin at 2:21 PM on March 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

Metafilter: More on the rat lungs.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 2:53 PM on March 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

The ability to make a kidney from a patient's own cells would save millions of lives, guaranteed. Wiping out polio incidently, is also a guaranteed win, we have the science already, and the proofs of concept have been a success. But instead, let's gamble! Let's keep putting our money into the war on terror, yay!
posted by pickles_have_souls at 3:55 PM on March 23, 2013

This is what I want to do with my life. Suggestions on what I should major in? I'm thinking biochemistry and possibly industrial design so far.
posted by Shasta at 4:01 PM on March 23, 2013

This makes me want to run outside, shake my fist at the sky in triumph, and yell "SCIENCE, BITCHES!"

I think I may do that. The neighbors will be startled, but they'll be fine. Please pardon me.
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 4:42 PM on March 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Inside was a human nose

Take another step and the nose gets it between the eyes!
posted by octobersurprise at 7:29 PM on March 23, 2013

I work in one of the labs mentioned in the timeline. It's exciting, yes, but don't get too excited. We're stalled at the point of getting the organ to thrive and function in vivo and, probably because I see the day-to-day failures, I have a hard time being optimistic. I definitely won't be bandying about made-up numbers of years til we have perfectly transplantable lab grown organs.

The huge successes with superficial tissue engineering make people wonder where the vat grown kidneys and livers are. It is one thing to make cartilage that looks like an ear or a nose and put some skin over it, call it a day, and quite another to make a functioning vital organ that is comprised of many different cell types. The bladder and trachea are great successes as well but don't nearly approach the complexity of heart, kidney and liver. I'm not even getting into the issues surrounding stem cells (yes, even adult SCs) and translating things that work in animals to humans.
And just for fun, a science pet peeve: people always marvel at the beating heart thing but those little myocytes just want to contract! It's what they do! They do it on their own in culture. It's not that the scientists were so brilliant that they got the things to beat– it's that biology is so brilliant that the cells don't even need us to make them beat.

This is what I want to do with my life. Suggestions on what I should major in? I'm thinking biochemistry and possibly industrial design so far.
posted by Shasta

Many universities offer a Bachelors of Science degree in Bioengineering now. Your undergraduate degree won't matter too much but it should preferably be science-y. Get research experience as an undergrad. Then apply to a bioengineering PhD program at a school where they are doing the type of work that interests you. If you want to be the person putting an organ into a human body, get an MD or dual MD/PhD. If money is a goal of yours, this will be a hard path.
The researchers in my lab mainly have engineering backgrounds and they seem to have picked up biology just fine. Mechanical engineering would be useful I think, industrial design less so.

Waitwaitwait! Upon preview, I mean please do be excited about all this! Society at large needs these type of articles to get excited about so that we can continue to do this research. And it is absolutely worthwhile but in the trenches... I'm making no promises.
posted by bobobox at 1:40 PM on March 24, 2013 [5 favorites]

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