Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Growing Guts

Intestine sections grown in the lab from a patient's own stem cells could one day treat short bowel syndrome

23 July 2019

Growing Guts

The prettiness of these coloured rings belies their serious practical potential. They're fragments of small intestine that have been grown from stem cells in a laboratory. It's hoped that such engineered tissues may one day be used to treat short bowel syndrome – a reduction in the length of functional bowel resulting from either surgical removal or disease. Premature babies with underdeveloped gastrointestinal tracts, for example, are prone to short bowel syndrome resulting from necrotising enterocolitis – a condition where parts of the intestine die. While intestinal transplants are one option for treating short bowel syndrome (and the consequent malnutrition), such surgeries come with a risk of transplant rejection. Growing intestine from a patient’s own stem cells avoids such risk and, encouragingly, advances in tissue engineering technology are enabling ever-larger pieces of intestine to be grown in culture. This once futuristic treatment idea is therefore becoming increasingly feasible.

Written by Ruth Williams

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