Wednesday, Dec. 07, 2011

Body Parts Grown in the Lab

Mary Shelley may have been on to something. Scientists are now creating real functioning body parts in the lab — like the urethra made by Dr. Anthony Atala, director of the Wake Forest Institute of Regenerative Medicine, in March.

The urethra is the thin tube responsible for transporting urine out of the body. In men, it can become damaged or narrowed by disease. To build a new one, Atala first created a biodegradable scaffold in the shape of a tube, then seeded it with patients' own bladder cells, and watched them grow. When the man-made organs were transferred into patients, remarkably they started working to eliminate waste.

At the moment, the technique is too expensive to be of much help to most patients — it requires a $5,000 investment in materials and equipment. But it's a promising step toward a new world of regenerative medicine where creating healthy body tissues to replace diseased ones isn't such a mad idea.