Getting closer to artificial organs after discovery of a new development route

Researchers at reNEW have managed to map and reproduce a pathway that occurs when cells create the gut-associated organs such as the liver, pancreas and intestine during fetal development. This previously unknown pathway brings us one step closer to creating artificial organs in the lab, reports Kristian Sjøgren from sciencenews.dk.

When the embryo develops, cells specialize step by step to turn into our various organs. This process needs to be fully understood to be able to produce artificial organs.

During development, the body creates most organs from the embryonic gut. Up until recently, researchers thought that embryonic gut cells were formed through a pathway similar to that described for most of the other tissues and organs in the body. Recent discoveries have, however, revealed that the organs associated with the gut such as the lung, liver, pancreas and intestine have a different origin, reports Kristian Sjøgren from sciencenews.dk.

Researchers from reNEW have mapped a previously unknown pathway from origin to organ formation. They have discovered important new landmarks and started to use this additional route for stem cell development in a dish, bringing them one step closer to realizing their vision of being able to create an artificial embryonic gut from stem cells, Sjøgren writes.

“For many years, stem cell biologists have attempted to produce organ-specific cells in the laboratory using a map routed in classical developmental biology. What we did is ask how cells progress through this new alternative route in an embryo and whether cells ever follow it when scientists develop them in a dish. We found that largely they do not. We therefore asked whether there were other ways to go about making organ-like structures in the laboratory,” Professor Joshua Brickman told sciencenews.dk.

Professor Brickman is a principal investigator in reNEW’s Copenhagen node and professor of stem cell and developmental biology at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. He led the collaborative effort that discovered the new pathway together with Ala Trusina, associate professor in biocomplexity at the University of Copenhagen and Ido Amit, professor in immunology at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel.

“By obtaining deep understanding of both the pathways that lead from either stem cells to gut cells or from support cells to gut cells, we hope to improve the methods of making artificial organs in the future.” Associate Professor Trusina is quoted as saying by sciencenews.dk.

Professor Brickman’s research was originally published in Nature Cell Biology in June 2022.