Artificial body

Japanese scientists have discovered a new material that can grow new cells in the human body

Published: Sunday 30 April 2000

through advances in medicine have made some kinds of organ transplant possible, the biggest hurdle for transplanting organs for the hundreds of thousands of needy patients is the lack of donors. Scientists have experimented with several materials to develop artificial organs that are accepted by the body's immune system. But their efforts have not been very successful. Now a team of researchers from the National Institute of Advanced Interdisciplinary research in Japan has announced the discovery of a new material that could provide a viable scaffolding for growth of cells in the human body.

Research in artificial organs or more specifically tissues has been going on for more than two decades. Burn victims were grafted with synthetic polymer skin that allows new skin growth and gradually breaks down as the natural skin grows. Cosmetic companies, to test the safety of their products on humans used the same material.Though making artificial skin was relatively easy, growing a whole new organ synthetically is far more difficult. This is because organs typically have many different kinds of cells, each of which has to fit in a particular arrangement as well as become live - develop its own blood supply.

Nevertheless, several groups have been trying to develop an artificial scaffold that could form the basis of a synthetic organ. In most cases the scaffold is made of polymers polyglycolic acid and polylactic acid or some combination of these. These polymers are chosen because they are non-toxic, spongy as well as biodegradable. The spongy structures act as supports on which the cells grow. However, because they are hydrophobic (water repelling) it is tricky to get cells inside them.

Now G Chen and his colleagues have developed a composite made of polyglycolic acid and collagen (a protein found in muscles and ligaments). A microsponge made from this is then filled with collagen. This has the advantage that collagen being water-attracting, the composite accepts cells for growth easily. The cells stick to collagen and can form the basis for tissue growth. As the tissue develops, it retains its shape and the material breaks down harmlessly. The scientists have tested the material by growing mice and cow cells. The development of this new composite could prove to be a significant step in the long road to grow tissues and functioning organs that could be accepted by patients.

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