The day when we can grow fully-functioning organs in a dish have come a step closer, as researchers at the University of Edinburgh have managed to create a mouse thymus in the lab - this is the organ responsible for making T-cells in the immune system - and transplant it back into an animal.
Publishing their findings in the journal Nature Cell Biology, the researchers took mouse embryonic cells called fibroblasts, and used a gene called FOXN1 to turn them into thymus cells. When these were mixed with other types of thymus cells and transplanted back into a mouse, the cells organised themselves into a replacement organ that functioned the same as a regular adult thymus. It’s the first time that scientists have made an entire living organ from cells that were created outside of the body by reprogramming.
Although the work’s currently still at an early stage, the scientists hope that their lab-grown cells could one day form the basis of thymus replacement therapies, or even lead to personalised T-cells grown in the lab to help people with faulty immune responses.