SCIENTISTS have grown human intestines from stem cells in a laboratory for the first time, paving the way for new treatment of life-threatening and chronic illnesses such as Crohn’s disease and some cancers.
The scientists, from the Intestinal Rehabilitation Programme, at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, say the new development puts them one step closer to growing artificial tissue to replace damaged human intestine.
The created tissue fragments – called “organoids” – were transplanted into lab mice, where they matured. Each animal produced “significant” amounts of fully functional human intestine.
Lead scientist Dr Michael Helmrath said: “This provides a new way to study the many diseases and conditions that can cause intestinal failure, from genetic disorders appearing at birth to conditions that strike later in life, such as cancer and Crohn’s disease.
“These studies also advance the longer-term goal of growing tissues that can replace damaged human intestine.”
The organoids were generated from induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) – stem cells created by genetically altering adult skin cells, causing them to revert to an immature embryonic state.
Like stem cells taken from early-stage embryos, iPSCs have the ability to become any type of tissue in the body.
The fragments were grafted on to the kidneys of mice to provide them with a necessary blood supply.
The cells then grew and multiplied on their own. The mice used were genetically engineered so their immune systems would accept human tissues.
Future treatments could use iPSCs derived from a patient’s own skin cells, eliminating the risk of transplant rejection.
In the shorter term, the work is more likely to accelerate drug development and progress towards personalised medicine.
The research is reported in the online edition of Nature Medicine journal.
The incidence of Crohn’s disease continues to rise in Scotland and approximately 240,000 people in the UK have Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, known as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
Prevalence is higher in Scotland than in other parts of the UK, with latest research suggesting that one in every 200 people in Scotland lives with one of these lifelong conditions
IBD is most commonly first experienced in the teens and early twenties and research suggests genetics, immune system failure, environmental factors and smoking increase risk.
Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer in Scotland, with around 4,000 new cases diagnosed each year.
Scientists have previously grown a human-like ear and artificial muscle on to the backs of mice.
Earlier this year, Scottish scientists produced a complete and functional organ in mice for the first time.
Edinburgh University scientists produced a working thymus, a vital immune system “nerve centre” located near the heart.
In future, the technique could be used to provide replacement organs for people with weakened immune systems, the scientists believe.
Last year, sight was restored to blind mice with a newly developed artifical retina.
The device, which could help millions of people with incurable eye disease, was developed by neuroscientists at Cornell University in New York.