Growing body parts in a jar

A new technology could offer hope for people in desperate need of an organ transplant. More than 100,000 American men, women and children currently need life-saving transplants. An average of 18 people die each day for lack of a suitable organ.

CBS News correspondent Mark Phillips reports that the eventual solution may lie in a London laboratory where scientists are developing a technique for growing replacement organs.

It's in a hospital lab overlooking today's London, they're working on tomorrow's medicine. You could forgive yourself for thinking you'd stumbled onto a film set for a re-make of Frankenstein, complete with human body parts in bubbling vats; Noses, ears, windpipes.

In the role of Dr Frankenstein himself, Professor Alex Seifalian has developed a breakthrough technique for manufacturing replacement organs by using a special plastic with the potential to change the transplant landscape. His work can be seen in an actual living windpipe growing in a jar.

"60 Minutes" on growing body parts

There has only been one actual transplant so far of what's called a "wholly tissue-engineered synthetic windpipe." The recipient, a man from Eritrea who had previously been diagnosed with inoperable throat cancer, is now recovering well. The patient said he felt okay after being discharged from the hospital, and that he had hope for the future.

The technique of growing organs involves making a glass mock-up of the diseased body part and then coating it in a new type of polymer -- a rubbery type substance developed in this lab. Seifalian describes it as a "special kind of plastic."

The plastic has microscopic pores, onto which stem cells taken from the patient can attach and grow. The plastic acts as a scaffolding of sorts around which the patient's own cells can then regrow and remodel themselves into a new body part.

B

ecause the cells are the patient's own, they are not rejected by the body's immune system, which is the usual problem with transplants.

The trachea, Professor Seifalian says, may be just the beginning.

"The heart is possible," says Seifalian, adding that more complex organs like lungs or brains will be much more challenging.

Already, the lab is growing blood vessels to be used in heart bypass surgery.

This might well be the start of a whole new medical industry. While the technique is not yet approved in the United States, Dr. Seifalian's lab is already getting body part orders from other countries around the world.