Currently 10,000 patients in the UK are waiting for an organ transplant. Only around 4,000 organs are gifted yearly despite one third of the population being on the national organ donor register, while rising obesity and diabetes rates are expected to drive a boom in demand for organs like kidneys. To alleviate demand, researchers are studying the possibility of harvesting artificial organs woven from hair-thin fibres (pictured) made of hydrogels. The fibres are loaded with growing cells that can take over the function of a failing organ. In a promising trial, biologists injected fibres containing insulin-producing cells into the kidneys of diabetic mice and successfully restored their blood sugar levels. Cells injected without the protective hydrogel fibre-casing were killed by the immune system’s defences. More trials, using fibres with heart, nerve or blood vessel cells show the material could in future replace failing human tissue.
Written by Tristan Farrow
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