Science fiction is quickly becoming science fact. Harald Ott, a researcher and thoracic surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital, has successfully created a lab-grown limb from a rat. This limb is fully functional, circulates blood, and responds to external stimuli.
The groundwork for creating this artificial rat limb started with using a real limb from a living rat. All of the living cells were removed from the limb until all that remained was the “scaffold” of the limb. The “scaffold” is what is left over after every living cell has been removed. It is the foundation that Ott and his team used to plant the cells that would grow to become blood vessels and muscles. Once the seeding of the cells was finished, the new limb was allowed to grow for two weeks in a special bioreactor.
After the limb was grown, testing was done to determine if the limb would actually work. Ott was able to determine that the muscles functioned properly by stimulating them with electricity. The lab-grown limb was then attached to a living rat to see how it would work. It was discovered that blood circulated from the rat to the new limb normally. It was not determined if the rat would reject the new limb or not.
The purpose of this work is to eventually be able to regrow limbs for people who have lost one or more of theirs. If scientists are able to do this at the human level, prosthetics would become a thing of the past. Any person who has lost a limb will be able to have a new one regrown that looks and functions like a real one. The cells that would be used to regrow a limb would come from the patient. Since the patient’s own cells will be used, rejection of the limb will not happen. Ott comments on how this could change the world for amputees.
“There are 1.5 million amputee patients in the States, and that burden on them is terrible from a psychological perspective and a functional one. Even with prosthetics, many patients who have forearm loss do not regain full independence in terms of taking care of themselves, because the dexterity of these devices is not quite there yet.”
Other researchers are skeptical that this will ever be possible at the human level. Oskar Aszmann, a professor of plastic and reconstructive surgery at the Medical University of Vienna, does not believe this will ever happen.
“For a complex organ like the hand, there are so many tissues and compartments that this will definitely not be a feasible protocol. Although this is a worthy endeavor, it must at this stage remain in the academic arena, not as a clinical scenario.”
Do you think lab-grown limbs will eventually be available for humans?
[Image via Washington Post]