Harold Ott, a researcher and thoracic surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital, has created the world’s first lab-grown biolimb – an artificial rat’s forelimb that is functioning, responds to stimuli, and even circulates blood.
To build this biolimb, researchers begin with a scaffold made by decellularizing the rat limb of a dead donor rat. Then, the limb is recellularized by planting the cells that make up blood vessels and muscles onto the scaffolds. Finally, the team monitors the recellularized limb in a specially designed bioreactor for two weeks, grafting some skin onto the leg to complete the process.
The Ott team went further, testing the artificial biolimb on another rat. Ott found that the blood from the living animal was able to circulate through the vessels of the artificial legs. However, no tests were done for muscle movement or rejection by immune system.
This is the first successful attempt to create such a complex body part – combining muscle, blood vessels, skin, and bones. Although this is only a first step, the ability to create biolimbs in the lab offers a new possible treatment option for those who have lost limbs to accident or amputation. These artificial limbs could one day replace prosthetics and bionic limbs, allowing patients to regain the ability to perform the same complex functions as a real limb.