BRISTOL, England, June 17 (UPI) -- Researchers have engineered a type of "scaffold" technology that allows them to grow larger pieces of tissue in the lab and may lead to growing entire organs for transplant patients.
Previously, only small pieces of tissue could be grown because of oxygen not reaching cells at the center of the tissue as it grew larger.
"We were surprised and delighted to discover that we could deliver the necessary quantity to the cells to supplement their oxygen requirements," Dr. Adam Perriman, of the School of Cellular and Molecular Medicine at the University of Bristol, said in a press release. "It's like supplying each cell with its own scuba tank, which it can use to breathe from when there is not enough oxygen in the local environment."
Testing their theory with cartilage tissue, researchers synthesized a new class of artificial membrane-binding proteins that can be attached to stems cells. They attached an oxygen-carrying protein, myoglobin, to the cartilage stem cells to provide oxygen for cells to access when levels get too low in the scaffold.
Professor Anthony Hollander from the University of Liverpool said the ability to grow larger pieces of cartilage will allow doctors to repair hip and knee injuries injuries that have "the worst kind of damage," and that the new method of growing tissue will pave the way for further advancements.
"We have already shown that stem cells can help create parts of the body that can be successfully transplanted into patients, but we have now found a way of making their success even better," Hollander said. "Growing large organs remains a huge challenge, but with this technology we have overcome one of the major hurdles."
The study is published in Nature Communications.