There is good news for folks who were waiting for someone to grow an organ inside an animal’s body. University of Edinburgh researchers from Scotland have achieved this feat. The team of researchers extracted a sample of cells from an embryo of a mouse before growing them into a completely live thymus. Just so that you know, thymus is the organ of the immune system of an adult mouse. It makes T-cells that combat infection and is present around the heart. Mind you this marks the first time that a complete organ is grown inside a living animal.
The question that immediately follows is: how did they go about this? The team of researchers used fibroblast cells by extracting them from the embryo and genetically programmed them again before working on their change into the sort of cell that is present in a thymus. This transformation required the team to force fibroblast cells to mimic just one particular gene that is not a usual exercise for fibroblasts. This fresh gene further led to the generation of another protein, FOXN1 which ultimately resulted in fibroblasts transforming into thymus cells. The researchers mixed these cells with extra support cells before planting them inside the bodies of mice.
Without any intent to downplay the hardwork of the researchers, I feel it is important to state here that thymus is not a complex organ at all. Therefore, it is not fair to think that an experiment such as this means that science is awfully close to incorporating the same techniques in human surgery. Given that the experiment requires stem cells from the embryo, it is likely to produce undesirable results. In such a case, the onus is on the scientists to ensure cells do not grow out of control and increase the risks of cancer. Still, this experiment could help scientists understand thymus to help patients with problems with their immune systems. Ofcourse, the ultimate development would be to copy this same exercise with human cells. Here’s hoping that such a development comes sooner rather than later.