Today, about 10 people on Earth have bladders they weren’t born with. No, they didn’t receive bladder transplants — doctors grew these folks new bladders using the recipients’ own cells.
On Tuesday, the BBC published a report on the still-nascent procedure of transplanting lab-grown bladders. In it, the publication talks to Luke Massella, who underwent the procedure more than a decade ago. Massella was born with spina bifida, which carries with it a risk of damage to the bladder and urinary tract. Now, he lives a normal life, he told the BBC.
“I was kind of facing the possibility I might have to do dialysis [blood purification via machine] for the rest of my life,” he said. “I wouldn’t be able to play sports, and have the normal kid life with my brother.”
All that changed after Anthony Atala, a surgeon at Boston Children’s Hospital, decided he was going to grow a new bladder for Massella.
To do that, Atala first removed a small piece of Massella’s own bladder. He then removed cells from this portion of bladder and multiplied them in a petri dish. Once he had enough cells, he coated a scaffold with the cells and placed the whole thing in a temperature controlled, high oxygen environment. After a few weeks, the lab-created bladder was ready for transplantation into Massella.
“So it was pretty much like getting a bladder transplant, but from my own cells, so you don’t have to deal with rejection,” said Massella.
The number of people with lab-grown bladders might still be low enough to count on your fingers, but researchers are making huge advances in growing everything from organs to skin in the lab. Eventually, we might reach a point when we can replace any body part we need to with a perfect biological match that we built ourselves.
READ MORE: “A New Bladder Made From My Cells Gave Me My Life Back” [BBC]
More on growing organs: The FDA Wants to Expedite Approval of Regenerative Organ Therapies