Could organ donation and transplants become a relic of the past?
In Today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Sina Rabbany, professor and director of bioengineering at Hofstra University, discusses new insights into how blood vessels acquire characteristics, and how they might be used to transform how we repair damaged organs.
In addition to being a professor and the director of bioengineering at Hofstra University, Dr. Sina Rabbany is also an adjunct professor of bioengineering in genetic medicine at the Weill Cornell Medical College. His research primarily focuses on cellular and tissue engineering as applied to the vascular system. He received a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania in 1991.
Dr. Sina Rabbany - Restoring Damaged Organs
Research has found that damaged or diseased organs may someday be restored with an injection of endothelial cells – the cells that make up the structure of blood vessels. This could someday eliminate the need for donated organs and transplants.
Previously it was thought that blood vessels were the same throughout the body. This is not the case. We have recently derived endothelial cells from mouse embryonic stem cells. These cells are versatile, so when transplanted into different tissues, they become educated by the tissue microenvironment, and acquire the characteristics of the native vasculature.
For example, when generic endothelial cells are introduced into the liver or kidneys of a mouse, the transplanted endothelial cells acquire the molecular profile and signature of the native pre-existing endothelial cells.
Endothelial cells and the organs they are transplanted into can work together to repair damage and restore function. The transplanted endothelial cells morph into vasculature that belong in the organ, and that can repair and regenerate the organ. If you have a heart injury and you need to repair some of your cardiac muscle cells, the endothelial cells that are around secrete factors that are specific for helping a heart repair itself.
Using bioengineering methods, researchers can scale up the production of these cells in large numbers in the laboratory in order to have large quantities of healthy, stable and viable cells for transplantation. Additional preclinical investigation is required before study of endothelial cell transplantation in humans is possible, but the therapeutic potential of endothelial cell transplantation may be endless.