For war veterans or other amputees that have lost a limb, the best they can hope for is a prosthetic replacement, and while there have been incredible advancements in the field, it’s just not the same as flesh and bone.
That might one day change though, and it’s starting with some science that seems like it’s right out of a late night sci-fi movie. Scientists have been working lab-grown organs for years and now they’re focusing on lab-grown rat limbs.
Dr. Harald Ott of The Ott Laboratory for Organ Engineering and Regeneration, started growing rat kidneys in 2013 and has now grown a rat forearm using the same techniques. To do so he and his team stripped an organ of all its cells, but left the membrane scaffold intact so other cells could be transplanted and hopefully grow.
“Limbs contain muscles, bone, cartilage, blood vessels, tendons, ligaments and nerves — each of which has to be rebuilt and requires a specific supporting structure called the matrix,” said Ott in a statement.
Amazingly, it only took around two weeks to grow the rat limb and when zapped with an electrical current the paw muscles would contract to around 80 percent of a newborn rat’s strength. Skin graphs were then used to complete the limb and it was attached to a healthy rat.
The next challenge to overcome is developing a never network in the lab-grown limbs. Because what good is a replacement limb if it can’t feel anything? Most lab-grown organs right now have a short lifespan because of not getting enough oxygen in blood circulation that is naturally provided by a healthy blood vessel network.
Ott and his team are confident though, that they’ll find a way to overcome these obstacles and plan on developing baboon lab-grown limbs next.
“As you can imagine, this scaffold not only has to be alive — but eventually, we hope that it will connect back to the patients through recipients’ nerve system[s] in order to become fully functional.”