All those science-fiction stories we once heard about growing organs in labs seem to be coming true. In fact, a study involving the very first bioengineered, transplanted organ, other than skin, has shown long-term success.
Bladder disease is a serious concern because it not only impairs urinary control, but it can also involve kidney damage as well. In its severe form, this frustrating condition is currently only treatable with “cytoplasty,” a type of reconstructive surgery using tissue taken from the small intestine or stomach. However, this surgery can cause severe complications, such as bowel obstruction, blood clots, and infection.
A team of scientists from Wake Forest University Medical School in North Carolina has been seeking a safer alternative for people with bladder disease. Led by Anthony Atala, MD, the researchers performed a clinical trial on seven young patients, aged four to 19, with poor bladder function due to a genetic nervous system birth defect (“myelomeningocele”). These study participants would have normally required cytoplasty in order to repair their bladders.
The research team performed a bladder biopsy on each patient, taking muscle and lining cells. These cells were placed on individual biodegradable frameworks shaped like a bladder and were left to grow into full organs. After seven weeks, the new bladders were surgically placed in the patients. Some of the bladders were inserted by using a surgical procedure known as “omental wrap,” and some without. After the surgery, the researchers tracked the study participants for four years.
The long-term results were very promising — the bioengineered bladders were performing well. The patients experienced improved overall bladder function and had better urine-flow control. In fact, medical examination showed no bladder leakage. Note that the use of an omental wrap produced the best results.
Even better was the fact that only one patient experienced any kind of side effect — and that was only a simple yeast infection. This indicates that the risks for this procedure are very low, making it an encouraging future alternative to cytoplasty.
This procedure is not available as of yet as an option for people with bladder disease. Further investigation is required, especially when it comes to different types of bladder conditions, such as bladder cancer. For the moment, the current therapy involving the use of intestinal tissue is still the most viable option for severe cases of this condition.