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Need A New Urethra? Lab-Grown Organs Closer To Reality

LOS ANGELES (CBS) — It may sound like something out of a cross between "Star Trek" and "Frankenstein", but it could soon be coming to your doctor's office: using lab-grown organs and tissue to implant in patients.

New research in the rapidly-developing field of regenerative medicine shows doctors successfully repaired injured urinary tracts using "urine tubes" made from cells taken from the patients' own bladders.

Dr. Anthony Atala, lead author of the study and director of the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, tells KFWB's Michael Shappee the unique procedure limits the risk of tissue rejection.


The study, which began in 1998, was conducted by Atala and his team of researchers to use "engineered tissue" to surgically repair urethral damage in five boys, according to the university.

Dr. Atala says the research is "an example of how the strategies of tissue engineering can be applied to multiple tissues and organs."

Researchers at the institute are working to engineer replacements for more than 30 different tissues and organs, including blood vessels, bone, corneas, heart, intestines, liver, and kidney.

Over six years of follow-up, all of the tubes continued to function well. The usual approach to repairing such urethral damage - in which doctors repair the damage using tissue grafts taken from the patient's skin or cheek lining - fail more than 50 percent of the time.

"These findings suggest that engineered urethras can be used successfully in patients and may be an alternative to the current treatment," study author Dr. Anthony Atala, director of the institute, said in the statement.

To make the urine tubes, doctors took a postage-sized piece of tissue from the bladder and then grew cells from the tissue and placed them on three-dimensional "scaffolds" shaped like actual urethras.

The resulting tubes were transplanted into the boys, whose own urinary systems had been damaged by severe trauma. In addition to trauma, disease and birth defects are common causes of such urethral damage.

(©2010 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)


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