Tag Archive | "University of Edinburgh"

Scientists grow an organ in an animal from cells created in lab


Laboratory-grown replacement organs have moved a step closer with the completion of a new study. Scientists have grown a fully functional organ from transplanted laboratory-created cells in a living animal for the first time.

The researchers have created a thymus — an organ next to the heart that produces immune cells known as T cells that are vital for guarding against disease.

They hope that, with further research, the discovery could lead to new treatments for people with a weakened immune system.

The team from the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh took cells called fibroblasts from a mouse embryo. They turned the fibroblasts into a completely different type of cell called thymus cells, using a technique called reprogramming.

The reprogrammed cells changed shape to look like thymus cells and were also capable of supporting development of T cells in the lab — a specialised function that only thymus cells can perform.

When the researchers mixed reprogrammed cells with other key thymus cell types and transplanted them into a mouse, the cells formed a replacement organ. The new organ had the same structure, complexity and function as a healthy adult thymus.

It is the first time that scientists have made an entire living organ from cells that were created outside of the body by reprogramming.

Doctors have already shown that patients with thymus disorders can be treated with infusions of extra immune cells or transplantation of a thymus organ soon after birth. The problem is that both are limited by a lack of donors and problems matching tissue to the recipient.

With further refinement, the researchers hope that their lab-grown cells could form the basis of a thymus transplant treatment for people with a weakened immune system.

The technique may also offer a way of making patient-matched T cells in the laboratory that could be used in cell therapies.

Such treatments could benefit bone marrow transplant patients, by helping speed up the rate at which they rebuild their immune system after transplant.

The discovery offers hope to babies born with genetic conditions that prevent the thymus from developing properly. Older people could also be helped as the thymus is the first organ to deteriorate with age.

The study is published today in the journal Nature Cell Biology.

Professor Clare Blackburn from the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, who led the research, said: “Our research represents an important step towards the goal of generating a clinically useful artificial thymus in the lab.”

Dr Rob Buckle, Head of Regenerative Medicine at the MRC, said: “This is an exciting study but much more work will be needed before this process can be reproduced in a safe and tightly controlled way suitable for use in humans.”

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Living organ regenerated for first time: Thymus rebuilt in mice


 

A team of scientists at the University of Edinburgh has succeeded in regenerating a living organ for the first time.

The team rebuilt the thymus — an organ in the body located next to the heart that produces important immune cells.

 Immune repair

The advance could pave the way for new therapies for people with damaged immune systems and genetic conditions that affect thymus development.

The team reactivated a natural mechanism that shuts down with age to rejuvenate the thymus in very old mice. After treatment, the regenerated organ had a similar structure to that found in a young mouse.

 Function restored

The function of the thymus was also restored and the mice began making more white blood cells called T cells, which are important for fighting off infection. However, it is not yet clear whether the immune system of the mice was improved.

The study was led by researchers from the Medical Research Council Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh.

The researchers targeted a protein produced by cells of the thymus — called FOXN1 — which helps to control how important genes are switched on. By increasing levels of FOXN1, the team instructed stem cell-like cells to rebuild the organ.

“Our results suggest that targeting the same pathway in humans may improve thymus function and therefore boost immunity in elderly patients, or those with a suppressed immune system. However, before we test this in humans we need to carry out more work to make sure the process can be tightly controlled,” said Clare Blackburn, Professor of Tissue Stem Cell Biology, MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine.

 Treatment hope

The thymus deteriorates with age, which is why older people are often more susceptible to infections such as flu.

The discovery could also offer hope to patients with DiGeorge syndrome, a genetic condition that causes the thymus to not develop properly.

“One of the key goals in regenerative medicine is harnessing the body’s own repair mechanisms and manipulating these in a controlled way to treat disease. This interesting study suggests that organ regeneration in a mammal can be directed by manipulation of a single protein, which is likely to have broad implications for other areas of regenerative biology,” said Dr Rob Buckle, Head of Regenerative Medicine, Medical Research Council.

The study is published today in the journal Development.

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