In her commended 2016 Max Perutz Science Writing Award article, PhD student Edie Crosse, from the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine, describes her research aiming to generate healthy stem cells from patients to treat leukaemia.
Blood, both vital and sinister, is tied so closely to our ideas of what it is to be human, warm and alive.
Throughout history people have felt connected to their families, tribes and countrymen imagining that the same blood flows through their veins – as if more than just cells but spirit is circulated. Nordic people often allude to their Viking blood making them hardier and stoic; the ancient Mayans believed blood was given by the Gods to bestow them with life, and frequently gave ritualistic blood-letting ceremonies to return it to them.
Professors Irv Weissman and Ravi Majeti at Stanford University and Professor Paresh Vyas at the MRC Molecular Haematology Unit in Oxford, are working on an antibody from the Stanford investigators that enables the immune system to detect and kill cancer cells. They are now testing whether it’s safe and effective for use in people with blood cancer. In this week’s blog they tell us how they collaborated across the Atlantic to get public funding for a project that has led to a spin out with multiple backers and a promising clinical trial.
What if we could make our immune system fight cancer like it fights infection?
These aren’t the only teams in the world grappling with that question but for Professor Irv Weissman and Professor Paresh Vyas, the solution feels tantalisingly close for patients with blood cancer. Read more
Today researchers at the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine announced that they have regrown damaged livers in mice. It’s just one example of scientists growing tiny versions of organs in animals and in the lab to study development and disease, and test potential treatments. Many of these organs also represent the first steps towards growing whole organs – or parts of organs – for transplant. MRC Science Writer Cara Steger rounds up progress.
Why might you want to grow a tiny organ? Small organs, or parts of them, are useful for studying both development and disease, and for toxicity testing or testing new treatments. In some cases, mini organs will be able to replace research using animals.
But they also offer a tantalising glimpse of a world in which we can grow complex solid organs for transplant. These tiny organs – often more like proto-organs with just some of an organ’s functions – are quite literally ‘starting small’, first seeing if it’s even possible.
Here we list eight tiny organs that have been grown so far.
Transplanted hepatic progenitor cells can self-renew (yellow) and differentiate into hepatocytes (green) to repair the damaged liver (Image: Wei-Yu Lu, MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine, The University of Edinburgh’)
The MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine researchers used liver stem cells, called hepatic progenitor cells, to regrow damaged livers in mice. After extracting the stem cells from healthy adult mice and maturing them in the lab, the researchers transplanted the cells into mice with liver failure.
In three months the cells had grown enough to partly restore the structure and function of the animals’ livers, providing hope that this technique could one day replace the need for liver transplants in humans.  Read more