In a breakthrough for regenerative medicine, scientists have grown intestinal tissues with functional nerves in a laboratory setup using human pluripotent stem cells. The synthesized tissue was used to study Hirschsprung’s disease, a congenital condition where nerve cells are missing from the colon, causing complications in passing stool. The research is detailed in Nature Medicine.
A pluripotent stem cell is a precursor cell to all the other types of cells in the body. In a petri dish, the stem cells were treated in a biochemical bath that triggered the formation into intestinal tissue. The novel part of the study was the construction of a nervous system on the intestinal organoid. The researchers manipulated neural crest cells to grow a system of nerves. By putting together the neural crest cells and the intestinal tissue at the exact time, they successfully grew together into a complex functional system.
The tissues were transplanted into mice. They worked successfully and showed a structure “remarkably similar” to that of a natural human intestine.
The scientists see that in the future, this development could have greater potential in studying diseases, such as Hirschsprung’s, and treating them.
“One day this technology will allow us to grow a section of healthy intestine for transplant into a patient, but the ability to use it now to test and ask countless new questions will help human health to the greatest extent,” said Michael Helmrath, surgical director of the Intestinal Rehabilitation Program at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and co-author of the study.
Soon, all sorts of tissue could be synthesized and grown in laboratories. Though there are still ethical and quality control issues to overcome, there’s no denying the massive potential these developments have in healing the sick. When we can grow parts of ourselves from small biopsies, transplants and transfusions could be fine-tuned to every need, and mutations could be studied to every minute detail—the possibilities are endless.