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Humans ‘to grow replacement body parts’

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  • Humans ‘to grow replacement body parts’

    Humans ‘to grow replacement body parts’

    IVF pioneer hails medical advances

    Lois Rogers

    div#related-article-links p a, div#related-article-links p a:visited {color:#06c;}THE British doctor who pioneered test-tube babies has forecast that within decades stem-cell technology will make it possible to grow replacements for virtually any part of the human body.
    Robert Edwards, 82, said the emerging field of regenerative medicine would enable a patient’s own cells to be used to build hearts, livers and kidneys, complete with their own blood supply, to replace diseased organs.
    The advance could make many transplants unnecessary and allow the regeneration of brain tissue and limb parts.
    Research is under way to understand how some lizards can regrow tails and how the organs of some mice, rabbits and deer can repair themselves.
    “We know the human genes that can do this do exist, because human foetuses can do it,” Edwards said. “If a finger is lost before three months’ gestation in the womb, it will grow back. The genes are there; we just need to know how to reactivate them.

    “When we started on this work in the 1960s, we knew all these things would become possible . . . it will not be far off. The biggest stumbling block has been money, but now there is huge investment in the field and things are moving rapidly.”
    In 1978 Edwards, a cell biologist, and his colleague Patrick Steptoe produced the world’s first successful birth from an in vitro fertilisation (IVF) procedure.
    The baby, Louise Brown, who will be 30 this July, is now a married woman with a naturally conceived 18-month-old son. She was the vanguard of a world-wide industry that has brought an estimated 1.5m similar births to infertile couples.
    Edwards has just published a 40-page discussion of advances in biology over the past three decades, together with his predictions, in the journal Reproductive BioMedicine Online. In it, he considers the consequences of expected new developments in the field of cell biology and the work on blastemas – clusters of undifferentiated stem cells capable of growth and regeneration into organs or body parts.
    Blastemas are found in human foetuses but disappear after birth. Regenerative medicine would allow a genetic “trigger” to be applied to tissue to prompt cells to grow into the required parts.
    Some scientists hope to grow the replacements within the human body and are looking at the ability of animals such as salamanders to produce blastemas as adults and “bud” new limbs and tails.
    Others would create organs in the laboratory by growing cells on artificial “matrix scaffolding” mimicking the shape of the organ.
    Edwards’s prediction of the availability of new body parts has coincided with the announcement of a significant advance by Ellen Heber-Katz, a professor at the Wistar Institute, at Penn-sylvania university, and one of the leading experts in regenerative medicine.
    Yesterday she said her group had discovered the genetic characteristics that produce “good-as-new tissue” regeneration in laboratory animals.
    This capacity, once activated in the human genome, has the potential to allow bodies to repair by themselves far more severe wounds – including surgical excisions – than is naturally possible. The repair would leave no scarring.