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Growing Replacement Organs From Patients' Own Cells

This is Shep O’Neal with the VOA Special English Health Report.

Around the world, there is a shortage of replacement organs. Some doctors see a possible solution: growing new organs from patients' own cells. Doctor Anthony Atala is director of the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest University in North Carolina.

He and other doctors recently described an experimental treatment with seven young people who had diseased bladders. They received new bladders grown from their own cells. The report appeared in the Lancet.

The seven children and teenagers were born with incomplete closure of the backbone. This disorder affected their bladder, the small organ that stores the body's liquid wastes. High pressure from bladder disease can damage the kidneys. Also, their bladders leaked urine, as often as every thirty minutes.

Doctor Atala began work on engineering bladders in nineteen ninety. Nine years later, he operated on the first patient. The seven patients were ages four to nineteen. At the time, he directed a tissue engineering program at Harvard Medical School in Massachusetts.

For a century doctors have used tissue from the intestines to repair bladders. But problems are common with this method.

The engineered organs are grown from bladder cells and muscle cells taken from the patient. Through the process of culturing, the cells divide and grow in the laboratory.

The cells are placed on a structural form shaped like a bladder. Cells are placed on top of cells on top of other cells. Doctor Atala compares the process to making a layer cake.

The bladder is then warmed. The cells continue to grow until the new organ is ready. Doctors then remove part of the diseased bladder and attach the new one, still connected to the structure. The form is made of material that breaks down in the body.

The body can reject tissue that comes from another person. In this case, since it grew from the patients' own cells, there was no risk of rejection.

The complete process takes about two months. The doctors reported that the engineered bladders have worked well. The seven patients must empty them through a tube. But the leakage problem improved and, most importantly, the dangerous pressure eased.

In his laboratory, Doctor Atala is now working to grow twenty different kinds of tissues and organs, including hearts.

This VOA Special English Health Report was written by Caty Weaver. Read and listen to our reports at This is Shep O’Neal.