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Lab-grown bladder is a first for science

Published April 4, 2006

BOSTON - For the first time, scientists have rebuilt a complex human organ, the bladder, in seven young patients using live tissue grown in the lab - a breakthrough that could hold exciting promise for someday regenerating ailing hearts and other organs.

Only simpler tissues - skin, bone and cartilage - have been lab-grown. This is the first time that a more intricate organ has been mostly replaced with tissue grown from the patient's cells.

The bladder transplants, performed on seven patients ages 4 to 19, are being reported online today in the Lancet medical journal. The research team at Children's Hospital in Boston did the first procedure in 1999 but wanted to make sure it would work on others. The results weren't announced while the doctors did the other surgeries and followed the progress of the last patient for almost two more years.

Dr. Anthony Atala, the lead researcher, said he believes the work provides a model for growing other tissues and organs. But growing other organs will likely hold unforeseen challenges, since organs are so specialized in their functions, scientists stress.

Even for people with bladder disease - and there are an estimated 35-million in the United States alone - Atala's technique requires testing on more patients and for longer times, researchers say. Replacing an entire bladder would pose many more problems, according to Dr. Steve Y. Chung, an Illinois urologist who wrote a commentary for the Lancet.

Still, he called the work "a tremendous, tremendous advance."

Atala, who has since moved to Wake Forest University, has already begun commercializing his transplant techniques.

Dr. Joseph Zwischenberger, who edits the journal of the American Society of Artificial Internal Organs, questioned how well the new bladders worked in the first few patients and raised a "red flag" about two patients who left the study for personal reasons and were omitted from the results. He also said Atala's attempts to commercialize should add some skepticism toward the findings, which he nonetheless called "very interesting preliminary data."

[Last modified April 4, 2006, 03:15:07]

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