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First intact organ built from cells in lab mice

Reprogrammed cells created in a lab have been used to build a complete and functional organ in a living animal.

British scientists produced a working thymus, a vital immune system "nerve centre".

In future the technique could be used to provide replacement organs for people with weakened immune systems.

But it might be another 10 years before such a treatment is shown to be effective and safe.

The research by-passed the usual step of generating "blank slate" stem cells from which chosen cell types are derived.

Instead, connective tissue cells from a mouse embryo were converted directly into a different cell strain by flipping a genetic "switch" in their DNA.


The resulting thymic epithelial cells (TECs) were mixed with other thymus cell types and transplanted into mice, where they spontaneously organised themselves and grew into a whole structured organ.

Prof Clare Blackburn of the University of Edinburgh said: "The ability to grow replacement organs from cells is one of the 'holy grails' in regenerative medicine, but the size and complexity of lab-grown organs has so far been limited.

"By directly reprogramming cells we've managed to produce an artificial cell type that, when transplanted, can form a fully organised and functional organ. This is an important first step towards the goal of generating a clinically useful artificial thymus in the lab."