Lab grown organs seen as remedy for long donor waitlists
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  • 1. news Gap in stem cell funding could drive Australian brain drain In late May, the Australian Research Council be a strong platform for future growth.” will be “inadequate to fund stem cell research announced an AUD$21 million ($18 million), Another new government scheme, worth to its current level in Australia and will lead, seven-year effort called the Special Research AUD$2 million over five years, the details furthermore, to the loss of the important ASCC Initiative in Stem Cell Science. Many saw the of which are yet to be fully announced by functions that underpin the research.” decision as a move to plug a funding hole the National Health and Medical Research Scientists also worry that the lack of funding that will arise when the Australian Stem Cell Council, will add a further modest boost for will drive a brain drain of young talent. Centre (ASCC) shutters its doors next June. regenerative medicine, with an emphasis on “Frankly, when there’s $300 million a year going But whether or not the new funding will serve translational research. into California alone, our best scientists are as a sufficient replacement remains a point of Nadia Rosenthal, director of the Australian saying ‘hey, that’s not a bad place to live, not a debate. Regenerative Medicine Institute at Monash, bad place to work,’” says Monash immunologist The ASCC was founded in 2002 to kick-start admits that the funding for the new schemes Richard Boyd, referring to the relative wealth research collaborations and to help scientists is “miniscule” compared to the ASCC’s former of the California Institute for Regenerative commercialize discoveries relating to stem budget. But, she hastens to add, “I don’t see this Medicine, the state’s $6 billion stem cell agency. cell biology. However, the AUD$115 million, as the great disaster. I see this as an opportunity “Our best scientists are being—as they should taxpayer-funded center soon became mired by for Australia to recraft its approach to stem cell be—head hunted.” infighting and management woes. And, after research and to use its expertise in certain areas One such scientist is Ernst Wolvetang, © 2010 Nature America, Inc. All rights reserved. failing to become commercially self-sufficient to regain its competitive edge.” who studies reprogrammed stem cells at the within about a decade—a business aspiration Still, many researchers say that the money Australian Institute for Bioengineering and that proved to be ahead of scientific reality— does not go far enough to keep Australian Nanotechnology in Brisbane. “I’ve had offers the ASCC is set to close in a year. research competitive on a global stage. to go elsewhere, and I’m not the only one,” he The new special research initiative, which “It’s a bit disappointing and frustrating,” says says. will fund one or more proposals (applications Richard Harvey of the Victor Chang Cardiac Last year, an eight-institute consortium led were due 30 July), is being hailed for focusing Research Institute in Sydney. “Stem cells are not by Wolvetang received more than AUD$2 on the science over the profitability of stem getting the boost that they need.” million from the ASCC to study induced cells. In addition to supporting research, the pluripotent stem cells. Now, Wolvetang is “This is a mechanism that will bring together ASCC also funds a core stem cell facility, competing against all stem cell scientists in some of the key groups around the country,” performs public outreach and provides the country for almost the same amount of says Martin Pera, who left Monash University scholarships and travel awards to students money. “If that doesn’t get funded in some way, in Melbourne in 2006 to head up a new stem cell and junior researchers, notes ASCC chairman then there will be other options that I’ll have to center at the University of Southern California Graham MacDonald. The special research consider,” he says. in Los Angeles. “It will build a network that will initiative’s reduced budget, MacDonald says, Elie Dolgin Lab-grown organs seen as remedy for long donor waitlists Patients around the world face terrifying from an organ with special detergents, Lungs: Ott’s team again used the waitlists for organ transplants. In the US, leaving behind the extracellular matrix decellularization technique to create the wait time for a liver transplant averages of collagen. This matrix serves as the a complete set of rat lungs. After 26 months; for a lung, it can be nearly scaffold on which a transplant is grown, transplantion, the rats could three years. To make matters worse, even if and it doesn’t provoke an immune breathe for up to six hours with a donor becomes available, there is still a response because the donor’s collagen is the engineered organs (Nat. Med. 16, risk that the transplant will be rejected. similar to the recipient’s. 927–933, 2010). This study comes on The ability to bioengineer organs would In humans, the technique has been the heels of work from a team at Yale solve both of these problems. An organ used successfully to make transplants University in New Haven, Connecticut fabricated from the recipient’s own cells of simple, hollow organs such as the that used a similar technique, but in that could be made to order and would not bladder or trachea. Other lab-grown study the rats survived for only two hours face the risk of immune rejection. “These organs are still years away from becoming (Science doi:10.1126/science.1189345, organs would be available on demand and available, but scientists have taken the 2010). thereby overcome donor organ shortage,” important first steps by creating whole Liver: Replicating the liver’s says Harvard Medical School’s Harald Ott, functioning organs in rats. Here are some intricate vascular structure lead author of a paper published in this recent successes: has proven particularly issue of Nature Medicine detailing lab- Heart: One of the earliest challenging, but grown lungs (page 927). demonstrations of the successful liver grafts were In recent years, replicating complex scaffolding strategy came from grown and transplanted into three-dimensional tissue structures Ott and his colleagues, who rats at Massachusetts General Hospital in has become more feasible thanks to grew a rat heart that beat when Boston, as reported last month in Nature a technique called decellularization. given an electric current (Nat. Med. 14, Medicine (16, 814–820, 2010). In this process, cells are washed away 213–221, 2008). Roxanne Palmer 834 volume 16 | number 8 | august 2010 nature medicine