Scientists have grown the first living, functional limb

Picture: B J Jank, Ott Laboratory

A breakthrough in cell regeneration has biologists hoping that amputees may one day be able to grow their missing limbs back.

An incredible paper released by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital outlines how they soaked the limb of a dead rat in a detergent solution for a week to expose its “scaffold”, or non-living parts, made up mainly of collagen.

That creates a kind of mesh onto which new tissues can be regenerated. The technique is being called “decel/recel”.

Importantly, the scaffold is reseeded with cells from the body of whoever is to receive the limb.

Then begins a three-week process in which the limb begins to “grow” again.

It’s placed in a bioreactor while the new tissue grows while hooked up to an exterior circulatory system.

Cells which build the interior lining of blood vessels are introduced first, so vessles don’t burst as fluids begin to circulate through them.


Cells that grow into muscle follow, and when the limb is complete, it’s covered with skin grafts.

They’ve recellularised about 50 limbs, and gone the step further of attaching them to living rats to find blood circulates through them.

And presto – electrical pulses got the thing moving, functioning with 80 per cent strength of that in a newborn animal.

“It showed we could flex and extend the hand,” Harald Ott, who grew the limb, told New Scientist.

Hands and arms have in the past been successfully transplanted from one person to another, but recipients have to take drugs that suppress their immune systems for the rest of their lives to ensure the donor part isn’t rejected.

This latest breakthrough gives hope that immunosuppressant drugs won’t be required, however, Ott believes it will be at least a decade before human biolimbs can be successfully transplanted.

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