Scientists smash barrier to growing organs from stem cells

Apr 04, 2014 by Josh Barney
U.Va. scientists Bernard and Chris Thisse have created a zebrafish embryo by instructing stem cells.

(Phys.org) —Scientists at the University of Virginia School of Medicine have overcome one of the greatest challenges in biology and taken a major step toward being able to grow whole organs and tissues from stem cells. By manipulating the appropriate signaling, the U.Va. researchers have turned embryonic stem cells into a fish embryo, essentially controlling embryonic development.

The research will have dramatic impact on the future use of stem cells to better the human condition, providing a framework for future studies in the field of regenerative medicine aimed at constructing tissues and organs from populations of cultured pluripotent cells.

In accomplishing this, U.Va. scientists Bernard and Chris Thisse have overcome the most massive of biological barriers. "We have generated an animal by just instructing the right way," said Chris Thisse of the School of Medicine's Department of Cell Biology.

The importance of that is profound. "If we know how to instruct embryonic cells," she said, "we can pretty much do what we want." For example, scientists will be able one day to instruct stem cells to grow into organs needed for transplant.

Directing Embryonic Development

The researchers were able to identify the signals sufficient for starting the cascade of molecular and cellular processes that lead to a fully developed fish embryo. With this study came an answer to the longstanding question of how few signals can initiate the processes of development: amazingly, only two.

Constructing a vertebrate embryo from two signals.

The study has shed light on the important roles these two signals play for the formation of organs and full development of a zebrafish embryo. Moreover, the Thisses are now able to direct and formation of tissues and organs by controlling signal locations and concentrations.

The embryo they generated was smaller than a normal embryo, because they instructed a small pool of embryonic , but "otherwise he has everything" in terms of appropriate development, said Bernard Thisse of the Department of Cell Biology.

The brain of the vertebrate embryo built in vitro.

Their next steps will be to attempt to reproduce their findings using mice. They expect molecular and cellular mechanisms will be extremely similar in mice and other mammals – including humans.

The findings have been published online by Science and will appear in a forthcoming print edition of the prestigious journal.

Explore further: New cell line should accelerate embryonic stem cell research

More information: Construction of a Vertebrate Embryo from Two Opposing Morphogen Gradients, Science 4 April 2014: Vol. 344 no. 6179 pp. 87-89 DOI: 10.1126/science.1248252

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User comments : 22

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shavera
5 / 5 (6) Apr 04, 2014
So if several adult cell types (eg, skin) can be turned into stem cells... and stem cells can be turned into embryos...
Sinister1812
5 / 5 (4) Apr 04, 2014
The ethical police will still say it's a living embryo.
fmfbrestel
4.3 / 5 (6) Apr 04, 2014
Just a matter of time before they grow a heart.
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (3) Apr 04, 2014
So if several adult cell types (eg, skin) can be turned into stem cells... and stem cells can be turned into embryos...


Interesting preposition, Shavera...:-)
PhotonX
4.6 / 5 (5) Apr 04, 2014
Just a matter of time before they grow a heart.
I'm more interested in a brain.
Sinister1812
5 / 5 (6) Apr 05, 2014
Just a matter of time before they grow a heart.
I'm more interested in a brain.


Exactly right! These things will benefit the people who don't have them!
Sinister1812
4.2 / 5 (6) Apr 05, 2014
Just a matter of time before they grow a heart.


Can they grow balls yet?
TheKnowItAll
5 / 5 (2) Apr 05, 2014
Nice work
alfie_null
5 / 5 (4) Apr 05, 2014
Considering the ultimate goal of reproducing bits and pieces of humans, I wonder how long it might be expected to take - growing some human organ from a stem cell? At a normal rate, it takes a decade or two to grow an adult human part - we don't mature as fast as fish.
thingumbobesquire
5 / 5 (2) Apr 05, 2014
Bravo!
Tachyon8491
3 / 5 (4) Apr 05, 2014
Wonderful accomplishment - now one wonders whether the process, stem-cells > pluripotential cells > organ regeneration, can also occur, not just by genetic manipulation, but by formative dynamics of consciousness.
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (2) Apr 05, 2014
Wonderful accomplishment - now one wonders whether the process, stem-cells > pluripotential cells > organ regeneration, can also occur, not just by genetic manipulation, but by formative dynamics of consciousness.

Maybe it's already being done, Tach....:-)
PhyOrgSux
5 / 5 (4) Apr 05, 2014
...and instead of organs it could also be possible to grow muscles, i.e. beef, this way...so instead of raising cattle, perhaps meat could be produced in more cost effective (even humane) manner...
TheKnowItAll
4.7 / 5 (3) Apr 05, 2014
They have grown beef meat already but it makes for a very expensive burger. If you don't mind the price tag I guess you could eat it lol
Burnerjack
5 / 5 (2) Apr 06, 2014
Just a matter of time before they grow a heart.

The researchers or the 'ethical police'?
Burnerjack
5 / 5 (2) Apr 06, 2014
Considering the ultimate goal of reproducing bits and pieces of humans, I wonder how long it might be expected to take - growing some human organ from a stem cell? At a normal rate, it takes a decade or two to grow an adult human part - we don't mature as fast as fish.

Long 'gestation' periods doesn't stop some from enjoying 50 year old scotch. Start now and in a couple of decades the organ farms will be ready for business, right? Pretty sure people will still need organs in 20 years.
Burnerjack
4.3 / 5 (3) Apr 06, 2014
...and instead of organs it could also be possible to grow muscles, i.e. beef, this way...so instead of raising cattle, perhaps meat could be produced in more cost effective (even humane) manner...

Maybe by genetic manipulation we could grow plants that look and taste like beef. Seems like that could be more resource efficient.
Modernmystic
2 / 5 (1) Apr 07, 2014
...and instead of organs it could also be possible to grow muscles, i.e. beef, this way...so instead of raising cattle, perhaps meat could be produced in more cost effective (even humane) manner...


Food manufacture will be one of those game changers in probably less than a decade. It has the absolute potential to eliminate hunger via economics rather than policy (which has an abysmal track record).

Matches used to be very expensive to produce. Now they're given away in books with advertisements on the back...

Food will be the same way.
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
5 / 5 (1) Apr 08, 2014
Not too much magic trolling ("conscuiousness"), how refreshing! =D

Re muscle for food, in the absence of immune system it would be very costly and hazardous. Likely the already large use of antibiotics would soar. And if you make clones instead, the natural way is even cheaper...
Modernmystic
1 / 5 (1) Apr 08, 2014
Not too much magic trolling ("conscuiousness"), how refreshing! =D

Re muscle for food, in the absence of immune system it would be very costly and hazardous. Likely the already large use of antibiotics would soar. And if you make clones instead, the natural way is even cheaper...


I'm curious. Are you saying that proteins and amino acids need an immune system to grow? I'm clear on how a living organism with several systemic biological systems to maintain in an environment of pathogens needs an immune system. I'm not clear how proteins grown in a vat do. Muscle tissue isn't an organism, it's biological matter yes, but not anything close to even a simple organism.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (2) Apr 10, 2014
We need to grow a mammoth, and then a glyptodont, and then a terror bird, and then an archaeopteryx, and then a Neanderthal. Etc. I'm sure they will all be very happy to be alive.
Whydening Gyre
not rated yet Apr 16, 2014
...and instead of organs it could also be possible to grow muscles, i.e. beef, this way...so instead of raising cattle, perhaps meat could be produced in more cost effective (even humane) manner...

Maybe by genetic manipulation we could grow plants that look and taste like beef. Seems like that could be more resource efficient.

Hmmm.... A filet Mignon tree?

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