Dr. Anthony Atala, director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, is used to hearing his work described as science fiction.
Way back in 1999, he and his team grew bladders in a lab and successfully implanted them in patients with spina bifida. Then in 2004, his team grew urethras for five boys in Mexico City. Eight years later, the laboratory-grown tissue looks as natural as the boys' own.
Today, scientists are growing more than 30 types of tissues and organs at the Wake Forest Institute in Winston-Salem, N.C. The hard work of growing vital organs "is a major challenge," Atala says. Although his lab has already grown a set of lungs, so far they're only experimental. "It should be only a matter of time before we create solid organs" such as livers and hearts, he says.
Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center researchers are also testing a spray-on skin that could greatly reduce the way skin grafts are collected for burn patients. Read more.