The world's first functional oesophagus engineered from stem cells has been grown and successfully transplanted into mice, as part of a pioneering new study led by UCL. It was hoped this research, carried out by UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health (ICH), in collaboration with Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) and the Francis Crick Institute, could pave the way for clinical trials of lab-grown food pipes for children with congenital and acquired gut conditions.

In the study, published in  Nature Communications , used a rat oesophagus "scaffold" and human gut cells to grow engineered tubes of oesophagus. These were implanted into mice and within a week the engineered tissue developed its own blood supply, which is important for a healthy gut that can squeeze down food

Co-lead author, Professor Paulo De Coppi, who is Head of Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine at ICH and also a Consultant at GOSH, said: "This is a major step forward for regenerative medicine, bringing us ever closer to treatment that goes beyond repairing damaged tissue and offers the possibility of rejection-free organs and tissues for transplant.

"At GOSH we see a large number of referrals for some of the most complex and rare defects of the gut and though the outlook for children is good, the condition and treatments have long-term implications .

Promising pre-clinical findings 

I've added: "We're really excited about these promising preclinical findings," he said . a life-changing defect of the gut in the UK each year.

Study co-lead author Dr. Paola Bonfanti, who is Research Associate at ICH and Group Leader at The Francis Crick Institute, said: "This is the first time that such a complicated organ has been grown in the lab.

"Not only is the gut tube-shaped , but as it is consists of several different layers of cells, which means we had to use a multi-step approach to develop a piece of oesophagus which resembles and works the same as a normal one. It's truly a promising step forward for children and even adults with oesophageal conditions . "

Although still in its pre-clinical stage, research into tissue such as this could lead to a new standard of care for patients with complex physical conditions, especially in the case of children with damaged organs. The method for the need for a donated organ, which is often in short supply for the pediatric population and significantly lowers the risk of organ rejection.