Restoring and constructing organs
Physicians and researchers of the Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC) and Leiden University are working on therapies for restoring damaged organs such as hearts and kidneys. They are even trying to construct tailor-made organs. Read more on this topic in the new science dossier on Vascular and Regenerative Medicine.
Patients suffering from chronic conditions such as diabetes and arteriosclerosis seldom heal. Doctors can rarely do more than keep the disease under control and minimise the damage to organs. Regenerative medicine aims for a different approach, namely restoring the damaged organs to their original state and function. Through vascular research Leiden researchers try to identify indicators that help predict at an early stage when people will develop a certain disease. The online science dossier on Vascular and Regenerative Medicine describes this ground-breaking research.
Stem cells are the key
Stem cells play an important role in this process. In the past, a complete organ, such as a heart or kidney, had to be replaced through transplantation. Nowadays researchers tend to look for a mechanism in the body itself that can repair the damage. In many cases, the capacity is there, but the mechanism does not function optimally. This mechanism can however be activated, for instance by administering stem cells. These are cells that still have the potential to grow into different types of body cells. At the LUMC, researchers are investigating the potential therapeutic applications of stem cells in regenerating tissue. For example to treat patients suffering from Type I diabetes, or patients in whose bodies the donor tissue interprets the tissues of the host organism as foreign to the body, thus provoking an immune reaction (graft-versus-host disease).
A kidney to order
The researchers also investigate whether it is possible to use stem cells to grow a kidney to order. To do so they use pig kidneys from which all cells have been removed so that only the ‘skeleton’ remains. This structure is then clad with cells that come from the patient. Much more research is needed before the first kidney to order can be transplanted, but once this becomes possible, it will represent an incredible medical breakthrough: nothing short of a solution to the shortage of donor kidneys.
Apart from therapeutic applications, stem cells also play an important role in scientific research into new drugs. Researchers use a technology known as organ-on-a-chip to allow stem cells to grow into a small fragment of organ. They then use these tissues to test substances that may lead to the development of new drugs.
From a variety of disciplines and perspectives, Leiden University researchers work together towards a safe, healthy, sustainable, prosperous and fair world. You can read more about their work in our science dossiers, including the dossier on Vascular and Regenerative Medicine. Previously published in the same series: