Scientists Grow a Fully Functional Rat Limb in a Lab

Friday, 05 June 2015 - 1:56PM
Weird Science
Medical Tech
Friday, 05 June 2015 - 1:56PM
Scientists Grow a Fully Functional Rat Limb in a Lab
When a patient loses a limb, doctors currently have the option of transplanting a biological substitute, but these surgeries come with significant risks and require the patient to be immunosuppressed for the long term. Now, a new study from the Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Regenerative Medicine may have made a breakthrough to providing a safer alternative, as they have just successfully grown a functional bioartificial rat forelimb in a lab.



Bioartificial limbs could mean building amputees new limbs from their own cells, eliminating the need for immunosuppression. But this is easier said than done, as lead author Harald Ott explained in a news release: "The composite nature of our limbs makes building a functional biological replacement particularly challenging. Limbs contain muscles, bone, cartilage, blood vessels, tendons, ligaments, and nerves – each of which has to be rebuilt and requires a specific supporting structure called the matrix."

For this experiment, the researchers attempted to create this necessary scaffolding or "matrix" using a process called decellularization, in which they stripped an existing rat forelimb of its cells in order to replace them with the artificially grown tissue. This method has been used in the past to grow bioartificial organs, but the process is more complicated in the case of a limb, since there are so many different types of tissue.

In the end, the researchers were able to build a full limb in their laboratory, complete with blood vessels and muscle fibers. They tested whether the limb was functional by applying electrical stimulation to the limb, and found that it contracted with 80% of the strength of a newborn rat.

This is a significant step forward on the way to building limbs for humans in a clinical setting, although more research would need to be done to make sure that bioartificial limbs allow for nerve regeneration. "In clinical limb transplantation, nerves do grow back into the graft, enabling both motion and sensation, and we have learned that this process is largely guided by the nerve matrix within the graft," said Ott. "We hope in future work to show that the same will apply to bioartificial grafts."
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