A new medical breakthrough has allowed doctors in the United States to successfully grow human bladders in a laboratory and implant them into patients with bladder disease. The results, which were released Tuesday in the British medical journal "Lancet," signal the first time scientists have successfully reconstructed a solid human organ. VOA's Carol Pearson narrates.
Kaitlyne McNamara has a new bladder. The sixteen-year-old girl is one of seven young patients who have received a lab-grown bladder in the last several years.
All of the patients receiving the lab-grown bladders were born with a bladder disease that causes high urinary pressure and can lead to life-threatening damage to the kidney.
Kaitlyne's kidneys were close to failing before she had the surgery. But five years later her kidneys are working and she has a new lease on life.
"Since I got the bladder, I have not had the accidents and I do not have to have people coming up to me and say, 'Well, there is a problem' so I do not have to worry about people making fun of me about that."
Patients with the lab-grown bladders still must use tubes regularly to empty them. But they do not suffer as much leakage and can stay dry for several hours at a time.
Taking a very small portion of the patient’s tissue from their existing bladder created these lab-grown bladders. They then used that tissue to grow the new bladder and muscle cells in the lab.
Dr. Anthony Atala, the director at the Wake Forest Health Sciences Institute for Regenerative Medicine, explains the process. "The way that we engineer these organs is we actually manufacture a scaffold in the shape of a bladder -- a mold, if you will, that is three-dimensional. We then take the cells and seed the cells onto the mold one layer at a time -- very much like making a layered cake. You then place that structure into the oven which is the incubator and approximately a few weeks later you have your organ which is ready to be implanted."
The researchers are optimistic this breakthrough could help millions of people suffering from kidney disease.
Dr. Wayne Meredith is the Chief of Surgery at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center.
"Being able to take cells from an actual person, [and] grow those cells into an organ opens up immense possibilities. Obviously, looking out into the future -- to potentially solve the organ transplant shortage that is out there and that is a huge problem. This is one step on the road of being able to fix [that]."
Dr. Atala and other surgeons hope to use the technique to repair or replace other internal organs.
“We currently have many other tissues and organs that we are working on at the Institute -- blood vessels, windpipe, heart and liver, pancreas -- they all have challenges of their own and we are trying to overcome those."
But for now, this medical advancement will help make Kaitlyne's life a little more normal. "I don't have to worry about having the accidents as much as I did before. Now I can go and enjoy having fun without having to worry about having the accidents."