In that year, medical science witnessed a kind of miracle. US surgeon Dr. Bartley Griffith performed a seven-hour operation to transplant a pig’s heart into a human. dr Griffith said he previously transplanted pig hearts into about 50 baboons for five years before performing a similar operation on a human.
In a press release, Griffith said: “This was a groundbreaking operation and brings us one step closer to solving the organ shortage. Unfortunately, there are not enough human donor hearts available to fill the long list of potential recipients.”
dr Griffith is right, organ shortages are a major challenge facing the world today. According to a WHO report, up to 5,000 people die every year in India alone waiting for an organ. In such a situation, xenotransplantation (heterologous transplantation – from one species to another) seems to be an innovative solution. Aside from the complications that can arise from such an operation, however, there are also some ethical and moral challenges associated with it.
In such a situation, an alternative—laboratory-grown organs or artificial organs—may be a viable solution. It is an emerging field and India Inc. seems to be promoting this along with government policy.
combat organ shortages
The Indian government funds an autonomous institute called the Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine (inStem) – a state-of-the-art research institute based in Bangalore dedicated to the study of stem cells and regenerative biology. According to the inStem website, the institute follows a “multidisciplinary, multi-pronged research approach and bridges the gap between clinical and laboratory research in stem cell biology”.
One of the topics that strongly reflects the type of research inStem conducts is Technologies for Advancement of Science. The work here includes disciplines such as basic and applied biology. One of the main projects undertaken by the team was the development of new tissues/cell types in the dish using stem cell technology.
This is not the only institute working on the artificial engineering of tissues/cells. The Bangalore-based Indian Institute of Science recently partnered with a global 3D bioprinting company called CELLINK to bring 3D bioprints to market. It is a process where bioinks are mixed with living cells and 3D printed to construct natural 3D tissue-like structures.
Experts assume that intensive research and bioprinting will make organ reproduction in the laboratory possible. This technology can also help researchers engineer cells and organs that mimic real human cells. Considered the first of its kind in India, this CoE will be established at the Center for BioSystems Science and Engineering (BSSE) at IISc.
In the past, Kaushik Chatterjee, associate professor in the Department of Materials Engineering, IISc, and his team have presented a technique for building tissue scaffolds that functionally and structurally mimic the tissue microenvironment. In one study, the team prepared bioprinted silk fibroin scaffolds for bone tissue regeneration, and in another, they conducted experiments on k-carrageenan to be used as a component in soft tissue bionics.
In 2015, Bangalore-based biotech startup Pandorum Technologies became the first Indian company to develop an artificial living tissue. Funded by the Department of Biotechnology, Pandorum was incubated at the Center for Cellular and Molecular Platforms (C-CAMP), Bangalore Bio-Cluster.
The company’s founders had claimed that their artificial liver could perform the same functions as a human liver – which would lead to affordable and fully transplantable organs, in addition to spurring the development of new drugs and vaccines. At that time, the team was able to keep the cells alive for four weeks.
Another Bangalore-based company – Next Big Innovation Lab (NBIL) – aims to become the country’s bio-innovation hub. One of his greatest achievements is the development of a 3D printed human skin called Innoskin. This 3D bioprinted skin has both medicinal and cosmetic uses.
Advances in 3D bioprinting, nanotechnology and gene editing are driving the needle when it comes to manufacturing lab grown/engineered tissues and organs. The US-based Wake Forest Institute of Regenerative Medicine is one of the leading players in this field. It was the first institute to transplant a laboratory-grown organ to a 10-year-old patient.
Stem cell scientists at the Israel-based Weizmann Institute of Science recently claimed to have created “synthetic embryos” without using sperm, eggs or fertilization. The future is really exciting.