Two new studies describe how scientists in the United States, Mexico and Switzerland are growing reproductive organs and nasal cartilage in the laboratory and successfully implanting tissue in patients. The studies are published in the British journal The Lancet.
In one article, investigators describe how they replaced the reproductive organs of four teenage girls born with a missing or malformed vagina or uterus. In the second study, scientists replaced portions of noses that had been removed after cancer surgery.
In both cases, scientists began the repair by creating a three-dimensional scaffold in the size and shape of the missing organs. The scaffold is made out of a material that slowly dissolves into the organ as it grows.
Researchers next took small pieces of muscle and tissue, using those cells to seed the growth of the organs or cartilage across the constructed scaffold. Once the cells take hold in a few weeks’ time, they grow to cover the scaffold, forming tissue which is then implanted in the patient. There were almost no complications from the procedure, even after years of follow-up.
Tissue engineering to replace burned skin, torn muscles and even some entire organs is not new. What is different with these two studies, say experts, is the complexity of the repairs.
Ivan Martin, a professor of tissue engineering at University Hospital Basel in Switzerland, co-author of the nasal cartilage study, calls the work "a move forward."
In an interview with CNN, Martin said, "all these incremental steps finally have demonstrated that it is possible to engineer tissue that can help patients."