The latest breakthrough in medicine shows promising results when it comes to growing internal organs of a species inside a representative of a different species. A team of scientists from Stanford University in California managed to successfully grow mice pancreatic islets inside rats and then transplanted them into other mice suffering from diabetes.
At the moment, there are only so many organs available for human transplantation. Since a global shortage seems to be in play, scientists have turned to other means of saving lives, deemed by many unethical. Growing human organs inside other animal hosts is the best chance at reducing the waiting time for a patient in need of a transplant. However, such practice proves more complicated for humans and also raises some ethical questions.
If successful for humans sometime in the future, health experts expect diabetes will be first to benefit from such a strategy. Diabetes is characterized by high glucose levels in the bloodstream, due to the pancreas’ incapacity of producing sufficient insulin. While treatment works on some diabetes 1 patients, others can only rely on a transplant to improve their chances of survival. However, with a global shortage of organ donors on their hands, health experts find it impossible to recommend the procedure as a therapeutic option.
Similar experiments have been conducted in the past. In 2010, the Stanford University researchers were able to grow a rat pancreas in a mouse. However, the organ was underdeveloped, since it grew to only the size of a mouse pancreas. Nevertheless, when the scientists repeated the same experiment, only this time the other way around, they were capable of growing a mouse pancreas in a rat. Moreover, most of the rat’s organs were composed of mixed mouse and rat tissues.
Since the pancreatic islets inside the host’s body were made up of only mouse cells, due to a genetic manipulation procedure the scientists performed on the rat, the recipient did not need long-term immune-suppressive medicine to avoid transplant rejection.
However, even if these experiments show promising results, many issues remain and many questions are still left unanswered. Pancreatic islets, which refer to only tiny fractions of the organ itself, are far from being complex structures. Also, the experiment succeeded only because mice and rats are very closely related. Growing human hearts, for example, in other animals is another, more complex issue, which is impossible at the moment, not to mention the ethical complication this practice would raise.
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