UCL News


Still no substitute for organ donors

5 April 2006

Scientists hope that laboratory-grown organs will one day help solve the shortage of transplant organs, while avoiding the risk of rejection and infection that can come from donor organs.

Tissue engineering is an older and more mature approach than more fashionable attempts to grow replacement tissues with adult and embryonic stem cells, according to Dr Chris Mason (UCL Biochemical Engineering), who leads a major tissue engineering effort. …

Skin consisting of two layers is now routinely grown from newborns' foreskins. With some pride, he added: "There are 200,000 patients who have been treated with tissue-engineered skin." …

Dr Mason's team is working with the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology to improve the process of using a patient's own cells to repair a damaged cornea. Others are growing bone cells, heart muscle cells and hair follicles. And all this without the need for human embryos, which will be welcomed by those who view this work with dismay.

In all, the body has 200 different types of cell and a more complex organ, such as a kidney or a liver, consists of many cell types arranged in an intricate structure. Growing one in the laboratory is not trivial and may not even be possible.

Take the most potent symbolic organ of all. In 1998, a project to grow a heart suitable for transplant within a decade was launched by Prof Michael Sefton of Toronto University, who said at the time: "Our vision is that we'll be able to pop out a damaged heart and replace it as easily as you would replace a carburettor in a car." His vision seems as distant today as it did then, according to Dr Mason.

Roger Highfield, 'Daily Telegraph'