Stranger Than Fiction: Scientists Are on The Verge of Creating Lab-Grown Limbs

Now there's talk that organ donations may eventually be a thing of the past with lab grown prosthetics beginning to take shape. Although this is not the same as organ transplants it could quickly morph into this.

July 9, 2015
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I’m sure many of us have seen the recent PSA’s regarding organ donors. The feels that ensue are gut wrenching and, quite frankly, made me take a detour on my way home to change my driver’s license preference. Organ donations are one of the advanced medicine miracles of our time, giving people a second chance that 65 years ago wouldn’t have been feasible.

However, organ donations are known for being few and far between. The waiting list is dizzying and the amount of time you have to wait sometimes borders on years.

But now there’s talk that organ donations may eventually be a thing of the past with lab grown prosthetics beginning to take shape. Although this is not the same as organ transplants it could quickly morph into this.

The exact science behind this new age-y science is fairly involved, but here’s a breakdown. We’ll use the example of a rat since that has been the first success story.

    1. An arm from a deceased rat was taken and placed in a vat of chemicals that disintegrated all of the cells leaving “primarily [the] vascular and nerve matrix.” In other words, it pretty much looked like a clean skeleton.

    2. As the cells were being removed from rat number one, muscle cells from rat number two  were being grown in an additional dish.

    3. The skeletal arm was placed in a container, and these new muscle cells were injected into this skeletal arm (again this is a VERY basic explanation of the process).

    4. This arm was left in the vat for two weeks, and when later inspected, the cells had been accepted. When electrical stimulation was applied to the arm it already had 80% muscle mobility (CNET).

This bioengineered arm has a clear advantage over a prosthetic limb as the range of motion is better and you can feel pressure and/or heat. Although clinical trials are a long way off and the success of it actually being accepted by the body will initially be slim, the current success of human hand transplants is encouraging.

In 1998, the first successful human hand transplant was performed on Matthew Scott. This 13 hour procedure was performed in New Zealand and doctors from around the world were flown in to provide their assistance. Since then, multiple hand transplants have been performed with success rates being higher than fail rates (Composite Tissue Allotransplantation).

The hope is that organically grown limbs and organs will have a higher acceptance rate within the body compared to that of a foreign organism. Prosthetics are usually rejected, or the recipient is on antibiotics for their remaining years to keep their body from rejecting this foreign matter (Engadget).

Organ donation is amazing and prosthetics are used by thousands, but wouldn’t it be amazing if we could have an endless supply to stop waiting lists and remove stigmas? Lab grown limbs are on the horizon, and although it may feel as though we’re playing God, the results can be astoundingly beautiful.

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