More than 1.5 million people in the U.S. have lost a limb. Amazing progress has been made in both passive and powered prosthetic devices, but they still are not the equivalent of the original body part. Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) have been developing ways to grow artificial limbs that are suitable for transplantation.
Experimenting with the forelegs of rats, they have developed a way to grow complex tissues including functioning muscle and blood vessels. The process involves removing all the living cells from the donor limb, and then injecting this natural scaffolding with the different types of cells needed to grow the desired tissues. Electrical stimulation was applied to promote muscle formation. The result as a limb that had the required muscle tissue as well as the blood vessels required to support the tissue. The limbs were transplanted onto recipient animals, and electrical stimulation was used to activate the different muscles.
The next steps in the research will require the growing of the nerve tissues required to control the limb, and to grow other types of tissues. The researchers will continue to explore the feasibility of these processes for creating human transplants, as this approach eliminates the risk of rejection by the recipient’s body.