The possibility of growing larger organs and bones in laboratories has become greater, thanks to a technology newly discovered by scientists at the Universities of Bristol and Liverpool.
In respect to stem cell reproduction, this development was made when researchers recognized a need to supply oxygen to cells that produce living tissues in the laboratory.
The collaboration of the two universities was led by Dr. Adam Perriman from the School of Cellular and Molecular Medicine of Bristol and Professor Anthony Hollander of Liverpool.
They devised a new tissue scaffold method and are hopeful that this may allow tissue growth into actual organs that can be transplanted to patients.
The team created an artificial membrane holding together proteins that can be attached to stem cells. They attached myoglobin, an oxygen-carrying protein, to these stem cells and used them to engineer cartilage. With this, each cell has its own supply of oxygen readily available when oxygen in the scaffold drops.
"We were surprised and delighted to discover that we could deliver the necessary quantity to the cells to supplement their oxygen requirements. It's like supplying each cell with its own scuba tank, which it can use to breathe from when there is not enough oxygen in the local environment," says Perriman.
"We have already shown that stem cells can help create parts of the body that can be successfully transplanted into patients, but we have now found a way of making their success even better," says Hollander. "Growing large organs remains a huge challenge but with this technology we have overcome one of the major hurdles."
"Creating larger pieces of cartilage gives us a possible way of repairing some of the worst damage to human joint tissue, such as the debilitating changes seen in hip or knee osteoarthritis or the severe injuries caused by major trauma, for example in road traffic accidents or war injuries."
Experts say that using a patient's own cells to grow his or her own body parts shows more positive results, since the patient does not have to react to a foreign body, and does not need to intake drugs strong enough to badly affect the immune system.
The research could pave the way to repair, for instance, damaged hip and knee structures caused by arthritis or severe trauma.
The group's research findings were published in Nature Communications journal.