Laboratory grown human organs: Small intestines by tissue engineering

Fig: Small intestine of the human digestive system (Image taken from
Fig: Small intestine of the human digestive system (Image taken from

Tissue engineering has advanced one more step towards growing functional tissues/organs in the laboratory. A research team led by Dr. Tracy Grikscheit, assistant professor of surgery at the University of Southern California showed that small intestine, a vital organ can be grown by tissue engineering techniques inside the laboratory. These laboratory grown intestines could greatly help patients suffering from Short bowel syndrome (SBS). Short bowel syndrome is a condition in which the patients (mostly premature and new born babies) have an insufficient intestinal area, i.e. intestine of these SBS patients is smaller compared to healthy individuals. This condition results in malnutrition, as the absorption of nutrients and food which is performed by the small intestine is hampered. SBS patients need parenteral nutrition in the form of intravenous injections for survival. Increasing the size/surface of intestine is a therapeutic alternative for the SBS patients done by the intestinal transplantation from the donor individuals. However this transplantation often faces the challenges like donor shortage, immune response and graft rejections.

Hence Dr. Tracy’s team worked towards growing tissue-engineered small intestines(TESI) tissue which could replicate key aspects of a functioning human intestine. They took cells from human intestines and soaked them in a digestive enzyme solution, which was then implanted into a mouse. Four weeks later, the TESI were harvested and successfully tested. The tissue engineered intestines demonstrated the same features comparable to the natural intestines in morphology in terms of having polarized sphere of intact epithelium facing a lumen, functional brush border, mesenchymal cells, muscle, and stem/progenitor cells.They could also break down sugars into glucose and release gastrointestinal hormones.Presence of microvilli and transporter proteins and secretion of digestive enzymes made these engineered intestines as good as the natural intestine.  These features make the laboratory grown intestines a better option for the SBS patients. These findings were published in American Journal of Physiology: GI & Liver.

Scientists from different countries have already developed lab grown stomach, vagina, blood vessels, bones cornea, skin and other organs. With the rapid advancements in the stem cell and tissue engineering technologies, the days are not far away where we can order custom made organs of our choice.


Disclaimer: This article does not reflect any personal views of the authors/editors