The Future this Week

By | April 8, 2006

Here’s a major development from this week that I never got around to writing anything about.

Patients receiving lab-grown organs.

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — The first human recipients of laboratory-grown organs were reported today by Anthony Atala, M.D., director of the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. In The Lancet, Atala describes long-term success in children and teenagers who received bladders grown from their own cells.

“This is one small step in our ability to go forward in replacing damaged tissues and organs,” said Atala, who is now working to grow 20 different tissues and organs, including blood vessels and hearts, in the laboratory.

The engineered bladders were grown from the patients’ own cells, so there is no risk of rejection. Scientists hope that laboratory-grown organs can one day help solve the shortage of donated organs available for transplantation. Atala reported that the bladders showed improved function over time — with some patients being followed for more than seven years.

Just yesterday, two friends of mine underwent kidney transplant surgery. My friend Kees has been blogging his long struggle with dialysis and search for a donor here. The site also tells about how our mutual friend David came to be that donor. This looks like a happy ending, with everyone doing well and the new kidney “taking.”

But as Virginia Postrel commented a while back when preparing for kidney donor surgery, this is a procedure that may not be around that much longer. With bladders grown successfully, and hearts and other organs under development, I don’t think it will be long before someone in Kees’s position will have options not quite available today: like getting a new kidney without anyone having to give one up — a kidney that won’t require immune system suppressants to avoid rejection.

It’s also satisfying to see something that I thought was very likely come to pass. Here we see individualized organ farming/harvesting without any stem cells/bastocysts/human beings with all the rights and privileges appertaining thereunto (whatever terms suits you) being harmed in the process.

No need for a tiresome argument at all. That’s a good thing.