Organ Refurbishing: The Stuff of Science Fiction

Vardan Sawhney
2 min readMar 4, 2018

Organ transplants is somewhat a modern day miracle, but there’s a pipeline problem: around 20 people die daily waiting on a transplant. But according to recent studies Harvard Med scientists believe that they may be able to solve the problem, by giving life to older organs from pigs and other animals, giving the organs and new owners another chance at life.

Harold Ott, a surgeon and his lab have managed to devise a method which strips the animal organs of their pre-existing celling using a detergent, leaving behind a tissue scaffold that provides space for human stem cells from the patient in need. This reduces the likelihood of rejection, and also means that patients wouldn’t require anti-rejection medication. As the cell grow on the tissue scaffold, a bioreactor keeps pumping the organ to ensure that the muscle remains healthy in stimulating it the same way it would in the human body.

As of right now, the team has successfully managed to repurpose lungs, kidneys, hearts and potions of intestines, from rats and pigs bodies, the organs worked- showing significant promise for human trials. The lab has also managed to regrow heart muscle on cadaver hearts which have similarly been stripped of their cells.

A human heart partially re-seeded with human stem cells being cultured in a bioreactor. Image credit: Bernhard Jank, Ott Lab, Center for Regenerative Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital

Much like how phones or batteries break all we need to do is swap them out and they are back to what seems to be brand new and medicine is possibly moving in this direction. However, it is still going to be at least a decade before these organs will actually be in human use or put through clinical trails. In the meantime, the team of scientists are working to improve the process, from better means of preserving the organs to gene editing or bio printing to alleviate the stress on the long transplant lists, which could very well be coming to an end.

Originally published at on March 4, 2018.