Freaky but cool: scientists have grown a rat's hand!

In news that will excite humans, rats and possibly Frankenstein, scientists at Massachusetts General Hospital have grown a rat’s limb with functioning veins and muscle tissue. This ground-breaking experiment brings us one step closer to human limb transplant surgery.

The tiny limb debuted in the journal Biomaterials.

Doctor Harald Ott of theMassachusetts General Hospital Department of Surgery and the Center for Regenerative Medicine said, “Limbs contain muscles, bone, cartilage, blood vessels, tendons, ligaments and nerves – each of which has to be rebuilt and requires a specific supporting structure called the matrix.”


Scientists grown paw

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To create the limb, the team took the front limbs from a deceased rat, soaking them for a week in a special solution to strip them of all cellular material while preserving the matrix. This provided the structural basis for new cellular material.

Meanwhile, vascular and muscle cells from a second rat were being “grown” in a culture.

The scientists then injected vein and muscle cells into position within the frame and placed it in a bioreactor filled with nutrient solution. After five days, electrical stimulation was applied to promote muscle formation.

Just two weeks later the muscles were working: when stimulation was applied to the muscles,  they contracted at 80 per cent of the strength of the muscles in newborn animals.

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Although clinical trials are a long way off and the challenges are many, this tiny success shows human hand transplant surgery is more than just an idea; it could become a reality.

“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,” said Dr Ott.

What do you think of this advance in limb transplantation? Freaky or cool?

Picture: Bernhard Jank, MD, Ott Laboratory, Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Regenerative Medicine