BREAKING NEWS FROM MIT: Rebuilding organs so they might be used again


It’s time to check in with the latest research from my old stomping grounds at MIT.

During my years as a mathematics professor at the university I was exposed to the latest advances in many fields of science. These days the inquisitive can keep up with new research by following the MIT Technology Review. The Ombudsman Alert has received permission from editor David Rotman to quote from the current edition of Review on a very interesting issue.

The topic this week: the possibility of organ regeneration through stem cell research.

I was inspired to study and discuss the above subject because a friend of mine has been waiting many years for a kidney transplant donor and must undergo stressful dialysis treatments each week just to stay alive.

MIT’s recent article cites Dr. Harald Ott, a surgeon at the neighboring Harvard Medical School who states that: “his lab’s unusual methods might someday solve the organ-transplant crisis. On average, 20 people in the United States die every day awaiting donor organs for transplant, according to the American Transplant Foundation, If Ott’s idea works, it could one day eliminate the need for an organ waiting list.

“The lab chemically treats organs from rats and pigs to remove all their cells,leaving behind an empty scaffolding. The researchers then populate the scaffold with stem cells from a patient hoping to create an organ that the human body will accept.

“In the most recent work, the lab is using a technique Ott helped developed called lung regeneration, transforming lungs from rats and pigs into human-compatible ones. Though rat lungs aren’t suitable as human transplants, they provide an excellent means to test the regeneration procedure.

“Ott originally began to develop this technique while studying at the University of Minnesota. In the decade since then, the lab has made strides in deciphering the conditions under which stem cells develop into functioning organs.

“So far the team has been able to transplant organs created with human stem cells back into pigs and rats. Given that the organs have human cells foreign to the animals,they stay alive for only about a week. But the experiments are evidence that these organs can work in a living organism.

“Though the early results are promising, tests in humans are still a ways off. The lab also hasn’t yet determined if pig lungs or human lungs will ultimately be the optimal source for scaffolds.”

I am most optimistic that, within the next decade, tests in humans will be attempted and, hopefully, will be successful.

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