Every day, an average of 18 people die waiting on an organ transplant. Because of the shortage of donated organs, it’s impossible to help everyone who needs a new one. Of those who receive transplants, many experience medical problems when their body’s immune system rejects the new organ. And although we’ve made significant progress with using stem cells for repairing organs, wouldn’t it be better if we could just regenerate the ones we have instead? That’s the question researchers at Edinburgh University asked, and in doing so, they successfully regenerated an organ in a mouse, marking the first successful organ regeneration in a mammal.
Mice, and humans, have an organ called a thymus. The thymus plays a critical role in the body’s immune system and matures T-cells, which help the body fight off infections. As we age, the thymus begins to wear down, releasing fewer T-cells, which explains why the elderly are prone to infections. The researchers started with mice considered to be middle-aged and elderly (one to two years old). In these mice, the scientists stimulated production of a protein called FOXN1, which acts as a trigger for genes and is important in the thymus’ development. The mice thymuses responded positively: the organs grew to at least 2.6 times of their previous size, back to their younger state. Even more importantly, though, the T-cell counts of the mice doubled.
The mice involved in the experiment were genetically engineered to respond to this treatment, so the use of this on humans isn't something that can happen immediately. However, this research does show that organ regeneration is possible — and potentially more effective than working with stem cells.
Via The Economist