We have a slight problem – population levels are rising and so is the demand for organ donation.
We have a slight problem – population levels are rising and so is the demand for organ donation. The thing is, in the majority of cases, patients can’t afford to wait around for a matching kidney to pop up – it is simply a matter of life and death.
According to the NHS, 9,000 people in the UK a year require an organ transplant but only 3,000 people receive one. One thousand die waiting. Imagine knowing you could be saved, that a lifeline is available, it just isn’t available to you at the time you need it.
Imagine constantly waiting in hope for a call to say it’s your turn.
There is hope! Thanks to Scottish scientists, we have a breakthrough. Prepare yourself for a science fiction horror story waiting to happen….it is now possible to grow a fully functioning organ, a thymus to be precise, in a living mouse.
Most of us don’t even know what a thymus is (FYI its an important organ that keeps our immune systems in tip-top form). Whilst the discovery isn’t quite saving human lives yet, it has opened doors to a spectrum of opportunities.
How did they do it? Without getting into the nitty gritty, scientists injected genetically reprogrammed cells into the mouse. The cells then transformed and grew into the organ. Easy! Don’t get too excited – it will be years before this method could be used in humans, but watch this space.
So if in 10 years we could grow our own organs, what would the implications be for the medical landscape and the ever-growing queue of patients?
-The treatment would save millions of lives.
-There would be no more waiting lists and no more holding out for that life changing phone call.
-Those who may not have been initially deemed healthy enough to undergo the invasive transplant operation would be able to have an injection. The elderly still have a chance!
-There would no longer be a risk of organ rejection as the cells could be designed specifically for the patient.
-There would be no risk of infection.
-The UK would be responsible for this incredible formula!
-No doubt there would be huge cost implications so how feasible would this treatment be on such a vast scale.
-There are a lot of unknowns – there could be side effects which may deter patients.
-To apply this across the UK let alone across the world will be an immense job so don’t expect any radical changes. Doctors would have to be retrained in a new specialism.
A small mouse-sized step for medicine could one day be a monumental step for mankind. Only time will tell.
What do you think? Excited by the prospect of Organ Growth or think it’s a Horror Story waiting to happen? Let us know in the comments below.
Image: Hey Paul Studios / Flickr