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Cincinnati Children's Ramps Up Research To Grow Organs

Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center
James Wells, PhD, says the technology gives reserachers a platform for lab research on living diseased tissue which can't be done on patients.

In what's believed to be the first dedicated facility at a pediatric medical center, Cincinnati Children's is planning to launch the Center for Stem Cell and Organoid Medicine (CuSTOM) to grow human organs.

An organoid is a structure that resembles an organ.

According to Director Aaron Zorn, PhD, this is key for developing and testing drugs before expensive clinical trials. "The course of the disease is different in different patients. So, if we're able to make tissue, liver tissue, from individual patients we can better understand their disease and that will really inform clinical practice in how we can treat those patients."

The effort to grow working human intestines in a lab began years ago and was part of a national effort, as reported by WVXU in 2012. Key are pluripotent stem cells which are taken from any tissue and genetically modified to behave like embryonic stem cells.

Chief Scientific Officer James Wells, PhD, tells WVXU it is not a simple process to generate an organ. He starts with pluripotent stem cellsand tricks them into acting like small pieces of intestine. They do have some function. They can absorb nutrients and secrete proteins.

"It's sort of like making a cake," he says. "We're building in an added layer to the cake so the cake now has some of the basic structure. It has the inside part of the intestine which does the absorption. It has some of the muscles of the intestine which are important for the movement."

Two years later, in 2014, he perfected the technique of generating functional 3D human stomach tissue in the lab.

CuSTOM will have a lot of collaboration. Physicians, geneticists, bioengineers and entrepreneurs will come together to advance pluripotent stem cell organoid technology.

Ultimately, Children's says this technology can address a shortage of organs available for transplant.

Ann Thompson has decades of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market and brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting.