Photo Courtesy of CNN

Photo Courtesy of CNN

By Zach McDevitt, Staff Writer

The stuff that science-fiction dreams are made of has begun to wake up and join us in the real world. Taking their cues from cyberpunk and Frankenstein, scientists have artificially created organs in laboratories, using natural tissue samples from patients’ damaged areas. However, more miraculously- and representing a monumental leap from the relative barbarism of transplants- the patients in post-surgery, report that there were no complications with the new organs after several years of use.

On April 11th, The Lancet, a well-established medical journal, released two articles, explicating the two studies and experiments- concerning vaginal and nasal reconstruction, respectively- that represent a new age in biotechnology.

According to CNN, the first study, jointly conducted by Mexican and American scientists and funded by Wake Forest University, involved the fabrication of vaginas for four women afflicted with Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser syndrome, resulting in vaginal aplasia, or non-development. The women, aged between thirteen and eighteen, were treated over three years, during which the intricate artificial organ development process was labored over and perfected. The study’s findings conclude that “Vaginal organs… showed normal structural and functional variables with a follow-up of up to 8 years.”

The second study, conducted entirely in Switzerland at University Hospital Basel, involved two women and three men, aged between seventy-six and eighty-eight, all of whom suffered nasal defects following tumor resections. The nasal cartilage, being more complicated to reconstruct, was mixed with serums and collagen membranes. The procedure was successful, and after one year, “patients were satisfied with the aesthetic and functional outcomes… no adverse effects had been recorded”.

The science of artificial organ growth, itself, is deceptively simple. Autologous cells are extracted from the afflicted area by means of biopsied tissue, which, being almost forty times smaller than traditional tissue grafts, is less invasive. Using the patient’s own cells ensures DNA compatibility and prevents the body from undergoing organ rejection, one of the more frightening complications of transplant surgery. Tissue samples are, then, placed on biodegradable scaffolding, rich with nutrients and cellular sustenance. Scaffolding influences tissue to grow in shapes optimal for implantation, and it dissolves naturally over time- causing no harm to hosts. Once given sufficient bulk, the tissue sample is surgically implanted, growing into a full, vivacious organ by its own design.

The relatively special nature of these studies, insofar as they’ve only been conducted on a small group of people over a limited time period, makes it difficult to predict the viability of artificial organ growth as a new, domineering medical model.  However, the astonishing success of the experiments is not to be overlooked, and may point the way forward to a new era.

Development in the organ growth school may indicate the waning, on part of the scientific community, of the age of transplants, grafts, and dangerous surgeries. Ivan Martin, co-author of the nasal cartilage study and professor at University Hospital Basel in Switzerland, looks to the future with optimism: “It was all considered too easy 20 years ago, but we made it; things are happening now.”