“The science [of lab-grown human organs] is advancing,” said William Wagner, PhD, Deputy Director of the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, Professor of Surgery, Bioengineering and Chemical Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, and Director of Thrombosis Research for the Artificial Heart and Lung Program. “The level of sophistication you see in the scientific literature has markedly increased in the last five years.” Dr. Wagner was one of several researchers recently weighing in on the efforts by biotechnology firms and non-profit institutions to replace people’s defective organs and other body parts with lab-grown versions.
In review, tissue engineering first took off in the U.S. about 20 years ago. Initially the interest was intensified by the shortage of transplantable organs—hearts, kidneys, lungs, livers, and other donor organs. Over the years, mechanical organs and synthetic body parts have been used, but they have their drawbacks: last a short time, cause blood clots, and promote infections. Seen as the answer, born was the global market for bioengineered tissues and other so-called regenerative medicine products.
According to federal estimates, more than $4.5 billion have been invested into tissue-engineering companies since 1990. To date, only a few lab-made skin and cartilage products have been approved for sale. Nonetheless, many companies and research institutions are still pursuing the hope that organs and other body parts one day can be grown like so much farm produce to rejuvenate patients suffering from a wide range of ailments. And they are making progress, although it could be years before most of them get a product on the market. In the mean time, the variety of potential applications for lab-grown tissues remains seemingly limitless.
Illustration: McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine.
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