It All Starts with Cells
Engineering an organ or tissue begins with having the right kinds of cells. In some cases, cells are isolated from a small tissue sample the size of a postage stamp. They are then mixed with growth factors and multiplied in the lab. The cells multiply in quantity so rapidly that, in about 6 weeks, a layer one cell thick could theoretically cover a football field.
For cell types that cannot be adequately grown outside the body (like heart, nerve, liver and pancreas cells, for example), stem cells may be an option because of their ability to become multiple cell types. Scientists in our lab identified a new source of stem cells -- amniotic fluid and placental tissue. These cells are readily obtainable and, unlike embryonic stem cells, do not form tumors. We are currently using the cells to explore potential treatments for diabetes and for liver and heart disease.
These images show muscle precursor cells in culture. When differentiated, the cells become muscle fibers (the “streaks” in the photo on the right).