Another Austrian in the USA, the organator?

The major problems with organ transplantation are first, the number of available grafts and secondly the rejection of the foreign organ by the recipients immune system. The latter can be prevented by immunosuppressive medication, but this comes along with secondary side effects like higher incidence of infections and malignancies due to reduced immunological control of cancerous cells. A possible and promising solution has now been shown by Harald Ott, an austrian chirurg working at the Department of Surgery, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, USA. Apart from his job at the clinic, he took a lot of time in the lab to establish a convincing new technique. They decellularized hearts from rats by pumping a washing solution through the vascularity of the organ. This results in a “ghost” heart , containing only matrix molecules, which are no longer immunogenic, since they don´t differ between individuals. This matrix has than been successfully repopulated with cardiac (muscle) and endothelial (connective tissue) cells. (Ott HC et al. 2008; Nature Medicine). [PubMed]
After 8 days and with a little help of an electrical pacemaker, these constructs were able to pump fluids in the way, the heart does it. The result was a 2% efficiency of an adult, and 25% of a fetal hearts capacity. Of course this could be adapted to for example to decellularized porcine hearts which could be repopulated with human cells, resulting in the aequivalent to a normal heart. Clearly it will take years to produce fully functional organs, but the first steps are accomplished.

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