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Ending the Organ Shortage Through Regeneration

Posted Oct 07 2010 4:08am

I’ve written about regenerating organs in the past and found that while many like the idea many others think the process would violate some religious principles so let’s put it in perspective.

First, it is important to define regeneration.  Your body already regenerates some organs on its own.  For example, have you ever cut yourself and then noticed that within a short time the cut disappears and there is no evidence of the cut on your skin.  That’s because skin, the largest organ in the human body, regenerates itself.  Another human organ with the same capability is the liver, which is why a person can donate a part of their liver to another person who needs a transplant.  Both the donor and the recipient’s liver parts can then re-grow into normal, healthy livers. 

Scientific or technological regeneration of organs is not possible now but could be in a few years.  Apparently there are several methods that could be used that would allow us to grow new organs if the old ones become diseased or damaged.  For example if a person suffers from a weakening of the heart muscle (cardiomyopathy) we might be able to replace the old heart with one grown from our own cells.  That means there would be no rejection because the body would not recognize it as a “foreign” object like donated hearts.  Subsequently there would be no need for the very expensive anti-rejection medication that transplant patients must take for the rest of their lives. 

At this moment there are over 110.000 people on the U.S. transplant list.  All of them will die unless they receive a life saving organ and those organs are only available from voluntary living or deceased donors.  Unfortunately only about 40-50 percent of Americans are donors and that means many of the people on the list will die waiting.  It does not appear that the U.S. will change the method of obtaining donors any time soon so we have two alternatives, regenerating organs or developing much more sophisticated mechanical organs.  Growing new organs may be preferable because they would be real and would not be rejected by the body but additionally such an achievement could mean the end of the organ shortage and that’s why there is so much excitement surrounding the issue.

The use of embryonic stem cells to re-grow organs is a method that seems to be the most controversial because some claim that an embryo is a human life and therefore we shouldn’t use them.  But there are other methods as well and we’d like to hear your thoughts about any of them. 

The world famous Mayo Clinic recently announced that regenerative medicine is a top priority for the organization and is moving ahead on some exciting research into using Pluripotent stem cells. “Huh?” You say, “What are they?”  According to Mayo, Pluripotent stem cells come from your own body and have the potential to produce almost any other cell in the body.   Mayo summarizes the process in four steps:

1. Take a few cells from a human.

2. Keep the patient stabilized long enough for more cells to be grown.

3. Re-engineer the cells to turn them into adult Pluripotent stem cells (the kind that can be triggered to change into any tissue, without the need for controversial embryonic stem cells).

4. Inject the cells into the damaged tissue of the person from whom they were taken. Or replace the patient’s damaged organ with a new, healthy one (grown from the person’s own cells). http://blog.targethealth.com/?p=11930  

According to the Exploring Stem Cells website ( http://www.explorestemcells.co.uk/pluripotentstemcells.html ) Pluripotent stem cells provide a chance to get a renewable source of healthy cells and tissues to treat a wide array of diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. Burn victims and those who suffer from autoimmune diseases such as Parkinson’s can all potentially benefit from the use of Pluripotent stem cells.

Pluripotent stem cells have a vast potential for the treatment of disease, namely because they give rise to the majority of cell types in the human body. These include muscle, blood, heart and nerve cells. Another potential use for Pluripotent stem cells involves the generation of cells and tissues for use in transplantation.

Pluripotent stem cells can evolve into specialized cells that ultimately can replace diseased cells and tissues. Drug research is another area that Pluripotent stem cells may benefit. Animals are a commonly used model to assess the safety and use of drugs. Instead of initially testing drugs on animals, they can be evaluated through testing on cells grown from Pluripotent stem cells. Those drugs that appear tolerated and safe can then progress to testing on animals and finally, humans.

There are several areas of research that offer organ regeneration possibilities like this one just announced this year.  http://www.hplusmagazine.com/articles/bio/print-your-own-designer-organs It would print yes print, new organs with ink jet technology.  It sounds a little complicated and perhaps strange but it does offer potential and hope for patients.

If you are really interested in the ethical issues surrounding regenerative medicine then I suggest you take the time to read Wake University’s Ethical Issues in Regenerative Medicine http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1380162

I hope you have found this post to be helpful, perhaps enlightening but no matter what we would like to get your thoughts on this most important issue.  Please comment in the space provided or email your thoughts to me at bob@baronson.org .  And – please spread the word about the immediate need for more organ donors.  There is nothing you can do that is of greater importance.  If you convince one person to be a donor you may save or positively affect over 50 lives.  Some of those lives may be people you know and love.

Visit and join my Facebook site, ORGAN Transplantation Initiative (OTI) at http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=152655364765710 the more members we get the greater our potential impact on decision makers who influence all organ transplant issues.  Also, check out my blog http://bobsnewheart.wordpress.com and my Facebook home page  http://www.facebook.com/home.php .


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