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Doctors Able to Grow Bladders in Labs and Transplant Using Patients Own Cells - Other Engineered Organs Expected in Future - No Rejection

April 3rd 2006

Doctors Able to Grow Bladders in Labs and Transplant Using Patients Own Cells - Other Engineered Organs Expected in Future - No Rejection

Kidneys and Bladder

Wake Forest University School of Medicine scientists have made a breakthrough in medicine by actually growing bladders.  Other organs are expected soon, and since the organs are grown from the patients own cells, there is no risk of rejection.  Organ rejection has been a problem with traditional transplants.

According to The British Journal, Lance, seven children and teenagers have received bladders grown from their own cells.  Some of the patients have been followed for more than seven years with no problems.  In fact, the bladders have shown an improved “function” over time. 

The children, ages 4 to 19, had poor bladder function because of congenital birth defects.  This defect caused an incomplete closure of the spine.  According to the journal, their bladders were not pliable and the high pressures could be transmitted to their kidneys, possibly leading to kidney damage. They had urinary leakage, as frequently as every 30 minutes.


Anthony Atala, M.D. said “It is rewarding when you can see the improved quality of life in these patients.”  Atala is director of the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine.  Urinary incontinence, which was a problem before the surgery, improved in all of the patients.

The children received tissue from their intestines to repair the non-functioning bladder.  According to the Lancet, this is a 100-year-old procedure and has also been used to “build” bladders for patients with bladder cancer. 

Since the intestines are designed to absorb nutrients and the bladder is designed to excrete them, there could be complications from the procedure.  The patients could be prone to such problems as osteoporosis, increased risk of cancer and kidney stone formation.


“We wanted to go slowly and carefully and make sure we did it the right way,” said Atala. “This is a small, limited experience, but it has enough follow-up to show us that tissue engineering is a viable tool that will allow us to tackle problems of similar magnitude.”  Atala has been working on building bladders since 1990, and in 1999 he was able to implant the first organ in a patient. These children were treated at Boston Children’s Hospital when Atala was director of the Tissue Engineering and Cellular Therapeutics at Harvard Medical School. In 2004, Atala’s program moved to Wake Forest.

The doctors began the procedure with a biopsy to get samples of muscle cells and the cells that line the bladder walls.  They then grew the cells in a culture in the lab until there were enough cells to place on a specially constructed biodegradable mold, or scaffold, shaped like a bladder. 

After about 7 to 8 weeks, these engineered bladders were sutured to the patients’ original bladder.  These cells continued to grow and were then tested to determine functionality.  This is when they were “repaired with intestine tissue, but with none of the ill effects.”


It is hoped that techniques like this will help alleviate the shortage of organs.  Atala is already working on 20 different tissues and organs. “We have shown that regenerative medicine techniques can be used to generate functional bladders that are durable,” said Atala. “This suggests that regenerative medicine may one day be a solution to the shortage of donor organs in this country for those needing transplants.”

Atala also directs the National Regenerative Medicine Foundation, which recently received $1 million from the federal government to create a Soldier Treatment and Regeneration Consortium to research how to treat burns and grow limbs for wounded soldiers.

Of course this requires more clinical trials before widespread applications.  These trials will begin later this year.

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