First limb grown thanks to bio-engineering for cyborg future

4 Jun 2015

Lab-grown human limb transplants could be closer to reality than we think after a team of bio-engineers announced that it has successfully grown an artificial limb, albeit for a rat.

The leg was grown by a team of researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) who wanted to improve upon previous accomplishments in the field; so the team grew muscle tissue and veins and combined them into a functioning limb.

Publishing the findings online, the team explained that the method saw them obtaining similar limbs from dead rats and stripping them of all their cellular material while preserving the limbs’ vascular and nerve matrix, which was then applied to the new limb.

According to MGH, all the stripped rat material was placed into a bioreactor to begin the process of creating the limb, while the recovered vascular cells were placed into the artificial limb’s main artery and the muscle tissue was injected to create the familiar muscle definition.

After some more genetic manipulation, an electric current was applied to the muscle for five days to stimulate its growth and, after two weeks, out popped what appeared to be a functioning rat limb, while stimulating it showed it contracted at 80pc of the strength of a newborn animal.

Looking further into the future, artificial limbs created for humans could be a major improvement on any potential robotic limbs, as our brains will not need to adjust as much to such an alien concept.

Harald Ott, MD of the MGH Department of Surgery and the Center for Regenerative Medicine, as well as the senior author of the paper, said of its potential: “We hope in future work to show that the same will apply to bio-artificial grafts. Additional next steps will be replicating our success in muscle regeneration with human cells and expanding that to other tissue types, such as bone, cartilage and connective tissue.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic