The result, if it meets the rigors of peer review, is significant because it suggests cloning organs for human therapeutic purposes may soon be within our reach.
The team of ACT scientists in Worcester used a single skin cell from an adult cow's ear and inserted it into a cow's egg whose own genetic material had been removed. Teaming up with Dr. Anthony Atala, an expert in lab-grown organs at Children's Hospital in Boston, the scientists isolated cells that appeared to be associated with kidney development. These stem cells were then transferred to a small biocompatible matrix where the cells matured and eventually formed a kidney.
Later, the researchers transplanted the cultivated organs back into the original cow that donated the skin cells and were able to observe the kidney performing normal functions.
The findings may pave the way for future research on therapeutic applications for cloned organs. Because transplant organs and tissue are in such high demand, cloned alternatives could eliminate long wait periods and suffering on the part of thousands of patients. An added advantage to using a cloned organ is that it would not be rejected by the patient's own immune system -- a complication that often occurs with donated organs.
Indeed, innovations in organ cloning are of great interest to the approximately 55,000 people currently on the national organ transplant waiting list. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 4,000 people die in the United States annually while waiting for a donated kidney, liver, heart, lung or other organ.
"I like the idea of making organs to order," said Dr. Eli Friedman, chief of the division of Renal Disease at SUNY Health Center in Brooklyn.
Future experiments should look at species that are more closely related to humans, he said. "The conventional opinion is that the genetically modified pig is closer to the human than any other organism."
But cloning science and the research done by Lanza's team are drawing the ire of anti-cloning groups who claim that such therapies would require the creation -- and destruction -- of a human embryo.
"We share their [ACT scientists] desire for new therapies but our question is about the moral boundaries of this science,' said C. Ben Mitchell, a bioethicist with the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity in Chicago. "It will be interesting to see what the developments will be with this. If you could clone kidney cells to make kidneys, that would be great. But the destruction of fetuses is unconscionable."
(Written by Koren Capozza in San Francisco)