The Lancet yesterday published news of the world’s first tissue engineered implant of a urethra (the tube that carries urine out of the body from the bladder).
This research by Atlantida Raya-Rivera and colleagues at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine and Metropolitan Autonomous University in Mexico is another step towards when we may be able to regenerate a wide range of body parts. This would solve many of the donor shortages for livers and kidneys that exist today.
In their paper, Raya-Rivera describe how they took a tissue biopsy from five Mexican boys and by then seeding these cells on a scaffold, grew new urethras. These were subsequently transplanted into the boys (aged 10-14) between 2004-2007. The results show that the tissue engineered urethras remained functional for up to 6 years, appeared normal within 3 months of implantation and allowed a urine median end maximum urinary flow rate between 16-28 mL/s. To put this in context, the average urine flow rate of males aged 8-13 is 12mL/s, suggesting that the tissue engineered urethras functioned well.
For those who suffer from complex urethral problems as a result of disease, infection or congenital defects, this research offers the prospect of a new treatment option. More research is required with a larger sample size to validate the findings, and to confirm that no strictures are seen long-term after reconstruction.
Ongoing research at the Wake Forest Institute of Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM) into engineering human livers, kidneys, pancreatic beta cells and heart valves suggests that, if successful, regenerative medicine will have a major impact on the treatment of future diseases. I can imagine a world for people with diabetes where new pancreatic insulin producing cells could be engineered and implanted.
The potential to replace non-functional or diseased organs and tissues with a replacement tissue engineered new one (like replacing a car part) will have a tremendous impact on the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry. Blockbuster drug franchises could disappear overnight. Regenerative medicine is an exciting area to watch over the next few years.
Raya-Rivera, A., Esquiliano, D., Yoo, J., Lopez-Bayghen, E., Soker, S., & Atala, A. (2011). Tissue-engineered autologous urethras for patients who need reconstruction: an observational study The Lancet DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(10)62354-9