British scientists have grown the first working organ made from lab-created cells. (Yes, it’s an organ you might not have heard of before, but it still counts.) The researchers, from the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, extracted connective tissue cells from a mouse embryo and used a technique called reprogramming to force them to become thymus cells.
The thymus is a small organ near the heart that makes T cells, a type of white blood cell that protects against disease. The Scottish team found that when they transplanted the thymus cells they’d made into a mouse, those cells joined together to make a miniature thymus that worked just like the organ does in humans.
This was the first time scientists have used this technique to make a new organ, and they hope that with continued research they’ll be able to use it in humans. This could help older people, as our immunity declines with age, as well as people who’ve had a bone marrow transplant. At present, patients who are born with a thymus disorder can be helped by an organ transplant, but there’s a limited number of donors and it can be difficult to get a good tissue match, so a lab-grown organ would solve that problem, too.