Thirty-two-year-old doctor Takanori Takebe and his staff at Cincinnati Children's Center for Stem Cell and Organoid Medicine, along with Tokyo Medical and Dental University, have succeeded in growing a connected set of three organs: the liver, pancreas and biliary ducts. Their findings were published Wednesday in the journal Nature.
Organoids are miniature organs created from patients' stem cells (iPSCs). Takebe calls them a "complex recipe" of proteins, small molecules, amino acids and nutrients. Last year he told WVXU, clinical trials in liver "buds" would tentatively start in 2020. He is building on that success with this latest development.
"The connectivity is the most important part of this," Takebe said in a news release. "What we have done is design a method for producing pre-organ formation stage tissues so that they can develop naturally. We are maximizing our capacity to make multiple organs much like our body does."
Watch this animation to see how the creation of the three organs happened.
The cells were suspended in a gel and then placed on top of a thin membrane. Over time they converted themselves into specialized cells. (Seen changing colors thanks to chemical tags scientists attached to the cells.) Over 70 days, the spheres sprouted into branches belonging to specific organs and multiplied into refined and distinct cell types.
More work is needed. The organoids are not big enough for human transplantation. A news release says Takebe and his colleagues have already started working on ways to add in immune cells along with cell lines needed to form blood vessels, connective tissues and more.
Takebe told WVXU in 2018 the big advantage will be testing drugs on these miniature organs. "We can expose some drugs in a dish and see how it reacts in a patient's specific condition to tell how humans respond to drugs."
When it comes to transplantation, he says doctors will have to "carefully select a very specific population" because the cost is high. Takebe says making and transplanting a liver or pancreas would cost $2 million.