Need a New Heart? Grow One.

Cosmo Boyd |

Autologous organ bioengineering is an exciting and rapidly evolving field in regenerative medicine. The general idea is to use a patient's own cells to create or repair organs, thus minimizing or eliminating the need for immunosuppressive drugs that are typically required for traditional organ transplants. Here's an overview:

1. Decellularization: One approach involves taking a donor organ (or even an organ from an animal like a pig) and stripping it of its cells using a detergent or another method. This process leaves behind a scaffold of extracellular matrix—the structural component of the organ that provides its shape.
2. Cell Seeding: This scaffold is then seeded with the patient's own cells. These could be stem cells, specific organ cells grown in culture, or other types of progenitor cells. These cells colonize the scaffold, essentially regrowing the organ.
3. Bioreactor Growth: The seeded scaffold is often placed in a bioreactor that provides the necessary environment for the cells to proliferate and mature. This environment can include the right nutrients, growth factors, and physical cues (like stretch or electrical stimulation) that encourage the cells to organize and differentiate properly.
4. Transplant: Once the organ has matured sufficiently, it can be transplanted back into the patient. Since the organ is populated with the patient's own cells, the risk of rejection is significantly reduced.
5. Benefits:

  • Reduced Rejection: One of the major benefits of autologous organ bioengineering is the potential to reduce or eliminate organ rejection. The immune system recognizes the organ as "self" because it's made of the patient's own cells.
  • Addressing the Shortage: This approach could help address the critical shortage of donor organs available for transplantation.

6. Challenges:

  • Complexity: Organs are complex structures, and ensuring the correct organization and function of the different cell types is challenging.
  • Vascularization: One of the major hurdles in tissue engineering is ensuring the engineered organ has an adequate blood supply. Without it, the innermost cells might die from lack of oxygen and nutrients.
  • Scaling up: While certain smaller tissues (like skin or bladder) have been successfully engineered and transplanted, larger and more complex organs like the heart or liver pose bigger challenges.

Research in this area is ongoing, with many teams around the world pursuing different
strategies to overcome the existing challenges.