Artificial limbs help people who have had to undergo amputation, and more than 1.5 million people in the U.S. have benefited from replacement limbs thanks to prosthetic technology. Unfortunately, the said artificial devices are limited in function and appearance.
So, Harald Ott, scientist at Massachusetts General Hospital, sought to create an artificial, functioning device that circulates blood. Thus, the first lab-grown biolimb was born – a limb made from rats.
Ott and his team of researchers made a rat leg with functioning muscular and vascular tissue, and although they have a long way to go before using it for transplants, they believe the rat limb can help humans and primates in the future.
The burning question is, how did they create the first bioartificial animal limb? Like this: Ott and his team took living cells from dead rats and grew muscular and vascular cells onto the non-living parts.
“What has been missing is the matrix or scaffold on which cells could grow into the appropriate tissues,” Ott said in a statement.
After performing transplants in animals, Ott noticed blood circulate in the artificial legs, indicating that the biolimbs can be used as replacements to lost limbs.
The biolimb can be a significant breakthrough in technology, as many bionic limbs can’t function like a real limb. People who have received successful hand and arm transplants also face a disadvantage, as they have to undergo immunosuppressive therapy for life.
“Additional next steps will be replicating our success in muscle regeneration with human cells and expanding that to other tissue types, such as bone, cartilage and connective tissue,” Ott said.
Believe it or not, the artificial animal limb isn’t the only new advancement in technology.
Doctors at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia have found a way to perform hand transplants on children.
Their first lucky patient was Zion Harvey, an 8-year-old boy from Maryland who had his hands amputated when he was a toddler. The 40-member transplant team, led by Dr. L. Scott Levin, practiced on cadavers before performing the transplant on Harvey.
“The success of Penn’s first bilateral hand transplant on an adult, performed in 2011, gave us a foundation to adapt the intricate techniques and coordinated plans required to perform this type of complex procedure on a child,” Levin said in a statement.
Like the biolimb, the hand transplant can improve quality of life.
“CHOP is one of the few places in the world that offer the capabilities necessary to push the limits of medicine to give a child a drastically improved quality of life,” Levin said.