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Scientists Grow First Functional Replacement Organ

Image is of replacement thymus tissue. (MRC Center for Regenerative Medicine, University of Edinburgh)

Reprogramming cells to grow functional replacement human organs may be only a decade away.

Scientists in Scotland report they have grown a completely new, functioning organ called thymus inside a living mouse.

The thymus is located next to the heart and serves as a command center for the immune system. People born without it suffer from immune system disorders.

Scientists at the University of Edinburgh's Centre for Regenerative Medicine took connective tissue cells called fibroblasts from a mouse embryo, manipulated one of their genes and combined them with cells taken from another animal’s healthy thymus.

When transplanted into a mouse with its original thymus removed, the cell mixture grew into a fully functioning replacement organ.

This is the first time that scientists have grown a completely usable organ from cells taken from another living organism. Previous efforts using so-called stem cells have produced parts of organs, but never a fully functioning one.

Researchers say experiments with growing a human replacement thymus could start within a decade.