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Scottish scientists successfully regenerate organ in mouse - could humans be next?

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
4/9/2014 (2 years ago)
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Regenerated thymus in 'very old' mouse may lead to same in humans

A breakthrough which may pave the way for the technique to be used in humans has been uncovered by Scottish scientists. Researchers have been able to fully restore an organ in a living animal for the first time. 

After the regeneration, the treated mice also started to make more T-cells, which is a type of white blood cell key to fighting infections.

After the regeneration, the treated mice also started to make more T-cells, which is a type of white blood cell key to fighting infections.

Highlights

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
4/9/2014 (2 years ago)

Published in Health

Keywords: Organ regeneration, mice, Scotland, Clare Blackburn


LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The team have successfully rebuilt the thymus of "very old" mice by reactivating a natural mechanism that gets shut down with age. The thymus is an organ found in front of the heart.

The rebuilt thymus was not only similar in structure and genetic detail to one in a young mouse -- but was also able to function again.

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After the regeneration, the treated mice also started to make more T-cells, which is a type of white blood cell key to fighting infections. It must be noted that the regenerated thymus was more than twice the size of the aged organs in the untreated mice.

"By targeting a single protein, we have been able to almost completely reverse age-related shrinking of the thymus," Clare Blackburn from Edinburgh's Medical Research Council (MRC) Center for Regenerative Medicine said. Blackburn also led the research.

"Our results suggest that targeting the same pathway in humans may improve thymus function and therefore boost immunity in elderly patients, or those with a suppressed immune system."

While the treated mice were making T-cells, Blackburn's research team could not yet establish whether the immune systems of the older mice were strengthened.

Before the technique can be tested in humans, Black burn says, researchers will need to conduct more animal experiments to make sure the regeneration process can be tightly controlled.
 
The thymus is the first organ to deteriorate as people age. This phenomenon causes the immune system to become less effective. As we grow older, we lose the ability to fight off new infections, such as flu.

Regenerative medicine is a fast-growing area of research and is chiefly focused on stem cells. One of the central aims is to harness the body's own repair mechanisms and manipulate them in a controlled way to treat disease.

Blackburn's team says that they targeted a part of the process by which the thymus degenerates, which is a protein called FOXN1 that helps control how key genes in the thymus are switched on.

The stem was then used genetically modified mice to enable them to increase levels of this protein using chemical signals.

Researchers managed to instruct immature cells in the thymus, which are similar to stem cells to rebuild the organ in the older mice.

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