Lab-Grown Tiny Human Esophagus Could Be the Key to Treating Various Ailments

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Stem Cells

Stem cells are quite amazing in that scientists can engineer them in a way that will allow them to grow miniature versions of an esophagus and purportedly, other organs in the body.

The esophagus is an organ that is highly responsible for guiding the food that we eat directly to our stomachs. The lab-grown and created esophagus were entirely created with the use of human stem cells.

Although the scientists were not able to create a full-sized esophagus, they were, however, successful in creating organoids which are tiny balls of tissue that mimic or resemble that of a real human esophagus.

Creating organoids in a laboratory environment are nothing new, but creating one that resembles a real human esophagus is a world-first.

According to Rebecca Fitzgerald, an esophageal cancer researcher, a 3D model of the human esophagus is very badly needed since mice studies do not translate to human subjects, simply because of the difference in the anatomy of both species.

Organoids could provide the perfect medium to help researchers test certain drugs that will somehow help them predict how a normal human would respond to such treatments.

And, since organoids are created in a laboratory (more specifically, in a petri dish), we can pretty much do whatever we want with it, said James Wells, a chief scientific officer of the Cincinnati Children’s Center for Stem Cell and Organoid Medicine.


How It Was Done

James Wells and his team used induced pluripotent stem cells that are derived from adult stem cells. These cells are engineered to become whatever cell in the body is wanted by the researchers so that they can test something- possibly for creating a cure.

The induced pluripotent stem cells were given a specialized mixture of proteins and chemicals that will help them turn into esophagus cells. Wells said that it guides the cells to turn into something more specific.

One key component to this recipe is the inclusion of the gene called Sox2 and its accompanying proteins. These have been linked to conditions of the esophagus. He and his team have discovered that this gene plays a major role in helping transform the esophagus into a human embryo.

His team is growing a few organoids that will help diagnose and treat patients who have medical conditions that specifically affect the esophagus. Some of the conditions are like congenital birth defects or esophageal cancer.

The patient would have to be run through a custom-made MRI machine that will help render a 3-D image of their organs. That model would then be sent to the surgeons who will then come up with a way to repair the said organ through surgery.

As an aside, the doctors would take a tiny piece of the patient’s tissue and it will then be delivered to Dr. Wells’ lab to help grow the organoids that are needed for the surgery.

Being able to utilize the organoids this way will allow the doctors to better diagnose, and therefore, treat the condition of the patient.