How we’ll transplant tiny organ-like blobs of cells into people

We are thought to be a long way from implanting miniature brain blobs into humans (although some have tried introducing them to rodents). But we’re getting closer to transplanting other organics — possibly lung, liver or gut-like ones, for example.

The latest progress has been made by Mírian Romitti at the University of Bruxelles in Belgium and her colleagues, who have Successfully created a miniature, transplantable thyroid from stem cells.

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped structure in the neck that makes hormones. A deficiency of these hormones can make a person very uncomfortable. About 5% of people have an underactive thyroid, or hypothyroidism, which can lead to fatigue, aches, weight gain, and depression. It can affect brain development in children. And those affected often have to take hormone replacement therapy every day.

Implantation of organic substances

After culturing thyroid organoids in the lab for 45 days, Romitti and her colleagues were able to transplant them into their thyroid-deficient mice. This operation seems to restore thyroid hormone production, essentially curing the animal’s hypothyroidism. Romitti said: “The animals are very happy.

The focus now is on finding ways to safely implant similar organoids into humans. There’s a lot of demand — Romitti says her colleagues keep getting calls and emails from people desperate for mini thyroid implants. But we’re not quite there yet.

Romitti and her teammates created their mini-thyroids from stem cells — flexible, “naive” cells that can be encouraged to form any one of many types of cells. cell. It took scientists a decade of research and much effort to figure out how to help cells form a structure like a thyroid gland. The end result required gene editing using viruses to infect cells, and the team used several drugs to aid the growth of organoids in a dish.

The stem cells the team used were embryonic stem cells — from a cell line that was originally taken from human embryos. These cells cannot be used clinically for a number of reasons – for example, the recipient’s immune system will reject the cells as foreign, and destroying the embryo to treat the disease would be considered unacceptable. is unethical. The next step is to use stem cells created from a person’s own skin cells. In theory, small organs created from these cells could be customized for the individual. Romitti says her team has made “promising” progress.

Of course, we’ll also have to make sure these organics are safe. No one knows what they are capable of doing in the human body. Will they grow? Zoom out and disappear? Formation of certain types of cancer? We’ll need more long-term studies to get a better idea of ​​what could be happening.

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