On average about 20 people a day die because no suitable donor organ is available. Now, for the first time, scientists report reprogramming cells inside a mouse and growing those cells into a fully functioning thymus gland. The medical advance could one day lead to healthy, lab-grown organs that reduce the need for donor organs.
“By directly reprogramming cells, we’ve managed to produce an artificial cell type that, when transplanted, can form a fully organized and functional organ,” professor Clare Blackburn of the MRC Center for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh said in a press statement.
To grow the thymus gland, the scientists started with a group of cells from a mouse embryo called fibroblasts, and then increased the levels of a particular protein responsible for developing the thymus gland.
Next, the scientists mixed those cells with other thymus cell types and transplanted into mice by grafting them onto the kidneys of genetically identical mice. The cells grew into a thymus that had the same structure and function of one that grew on its own. It was also able to produce white blood cells called T cells that fight infection.
The photo above shows kidney cells in pink and thymus cells in dark blue.
The researchers say this is in an important first step and have planned additional studies.
Credit: N Bredenkamp et al.