Milestones and challenges in regenerative medicine

15 April 2014

Four women in the US have received new vaginas – grown in the laboratory.
 
The women all suffered from vaginal aplasia, lacking a properly formed vagina. A paper in the Lancet reports on how researchers were able to grow appropriately shaped, tissue matched new vaginas using a biodegradable scaffold and a tissue sample from each patient.
 
The new tissue-matched vaginas were then successfully implanted into the recipient patients who reported normal sexual function.
 
Dr Anthony Atala, Director of the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Centre in North Carolina where the procedures took place said: "Really for the first time we've created a whole organ that was never there to start with, it was a challenge".
 
Along with other recent developments, such as the creation of new noses for skin cancer patients from cartilage samples by Swiss researchers – a potential forerunner of much wider options for facial reconstruction - and earlier successes such as the growth of new windpipes, this latest news has been hailed as another milestone in the progress of regenerative medicine.
 
Further developments from stem cell and tissue manipulation are eagerly awaited, to create new and improved options for repair or replacement of missing, damaged or otherwise non-functional tissues and organs. The Wellcome Trust has just awarded £5 million for a research consortium led by the Scottish National Blood Service that is expected to generate red blood cells via stem cell culture.
 
In technical terms, successfully inducing stem cells to differentiate into red blood cells is in itself a highly ambitious goal. However, the consortium aims not only to progress to human trials by 2016 but also to create a scalable process suitable for large-scale (and financially viable) commercial development. Synthetic blood transfusions would help bridge shortages in some types of donated blood, as well as reducing some of the associated risks such as transmission of infections.

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