Page URL: https://www.bionews.org.uk/page_94722

Thymus grown in mice following cell transplant

26 August 2014
Appeared in BioNews 768

Researchers from the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine in Edinburgh, UK, have for the first time produced complete working organs from genetically 'reprogrammed' cells. Engineered cells were inserted into adult mice, where they grew into what appeared to be functional thymuses.

Most cells in a normal thymus rely on the production of a protein called Foxn1 in order to develop correctly. By adding a gene that makes this protein to the cells, the researchers were able to force them to change in both appearance and function to resemble thymus cells. Mixed with other cells and injected into mice, these reprogrammed cells grew into functional, thymus-like organs.

The thymus is a small organ found near the heart that is responsible for developing T-cells, a kind of white blood cell that is crucial for providing immunity to viruses and bacteria. Certain genetic conditions (such as Di George syndrome) and immunosuppressive medical treatments can result in an ineffective thymus, making people susceptible to infection. Being able to regenerate or replace a thymus would enable doctors to provide a working immune system to patients suffering from a number of different conditions.

Due to its relative simplicity, the thymus is an ideal candidate for organ engineering. While other research groups have tried to use similar techniques to generate thymus cells, this paper claims to be the first to be successful in being able to demonstrate all thymic functions.

'By directly reprogramming cells we've managed to produce an artificial cell type that, when transplanted, can form a fully organised and functional organ', said Professor Clare Blackburn, lead author on the paper, which was published in Nature Cell Biology. 'This is an important first step towards the goal of generating a clinically useful artificial thymus in the lab'.

While technologically impressive, the procedure is currently not suitable for use in people. It currently involves using cells derived from fetuses, but the procedure may one day involve cells taken from the patient requiring the transplant, minimising ethical concerns and risks of rejecting foreign tissue.

As Professor Chris Mason from University College London puts it, 'the time and resources required to turn this mouse proof of concept study into a safe and effective routine therapy for patients will be very significant – ten years and tens of millions of pounds at a bare minimum'.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
An organized and functional thymus generated from ​FOXN1-reprogrammed fibroblasts
Nature Cell Biology |  24 August 2014
Expert reaction to thymus grown in mice from lab-created cells
Science Media Centre |  24 August 2014
Fully functional immune organ grown in mice from lab-created cells
Medical Research Council (press release) |  22 August 2014
RELATED ARTICLES FROM THE BIONEWS ARCHIVE
12 September 2016 - by Dr Katie Howe 
Researchers in Belgium have taken the first steps towards producing a transplantable artificial ovary after demonstrating successful follicle survival in mice...
29 June 2015 - by Dr James Heather 
The NHS has announced that it plans to begin testing laboratory-produced blood in healthy volunteers by 2017...
22 September 2014 - by Isobel Steer 
Mice engineered to carry a human version of the 'language gene' can learn to navigate a maze faster than normal mice. The study offers some insight into how humans evolved to produce and understand speech....
7 July 2014 - by Dr Daniel Grimes 
In one of the first experiments to grow tissue from adult stem cells, scientists have grown corneas in the lab...
14 April 2014 - by Dr Lucy Freem 
Turning on a single gene can regenerate the thymus in elderly mice, causing the immune system organ to double in size and make more white blood cells...
14 April 2014 - by Dr Nicola Davis 
A lab in London where scientists grow human noses and windpipes has opened its doors to the press...
10 October 2011 - by George Frodsham 
Scientists have found a new method of suppressing the automatic rejection of donated kidneys in transplant patients, by using the donor's stem cells. In a small trial carried out at Stanford University, California, eight out of 12 patients were able to stop taking anti-rejection drugs, which are usually a lifelong necessity, following this treatment....
HAVE YOUR SAY
Log in to add a Comment.

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions


Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.