A team of scientists and surgeons at a Melbourne hospital has developed a method of growing new organs within a patient’s body.
Previously, scientists had only been able to create two-dimensional constructions such as skin.
But researchers at the Bernard O’Brien Institute of Microsurgery at Melbourne’s St Vincent’s Hospital say have created three-dimensional cells.
The cells have been grown in a plastic chamber under the patients’ skin.
“We have developed a special chamber and this is essentially an empty box into which we implant a blood vessel using microsurgery techniques,” lead researcher Professor Wayne Morrison said.
“We let them grow according to the specific environment that we can create.
“Now currently we have been able to make breast tissue, fat, muscle, pancreas tissue that secretes insulin and we have also created thymus tissue, which may have an application in immunology.”
Professor Morrison predicts the discovery will ultimately lead to the creation of human organs, including parts of the heart, using patients’ own stem cells.
He says such a scenario would reduce the problem of immune rejection, which is often associated with organ transplants.
“This is really just an example of the potential of tissue engineering. This is growing tissues in the body,” Professor Morrison said.
“It involves combining the expertise of biologists and chemical engineers, particularly where we mix cells and scaffolds together and implant them in the body where they grow and mature and develop into specific tissues.”
The research team says it is expected to be about 10 years before the new method is used.
Federal Treasurer Peter Costello was behind the original $300,000 grant that ultimately led to the discovery.
At the scientists’ press conference, Mr Costello took the liberty of explaining why he had taken an interest in the research.
“So why is a Federal Treasurer interested in this work? First, my interest in the heart proves I have a heart.”