Health Beat: Engineered colons: Medicine's next big thing?

Posted: 9:30 AM EDT Aug 09, 2013   Updated: 5:53 PM EDT Aug 09, 2013
Engineered colons

Did you know that every two weeks your intestine completely regenerates its lining itself? It's because of this incredible regenerative capacity that doctors believe intestines are the perfect organ to regrow. Now, a new medical breakthrough could help children born with gastrointestinal defects.

“I was so scared I didn’t know what was going to happen,” Stacy Lara said.

At 18 weeks pregnant, Lara was told something was terribly wrong with her son.

"He had quite a bit of bowel outside of his abdomen," Lara said.

Nathan had a birth defect that caused his intestine to grow outside of his body.

"He really only has a few inches of intestines, whereas a baby this age would normally have maybe six to eight feet of intestine," said Dr. Russ Merritt, medical director of the intestinal rehabilitation program at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

For Nathan, that means a lifetime of being fed through a tube or a transplant, but Dr. Tracy Grikscheit said she hopes a discovery in her lab can change the prognosis for Nathan and other children like him. 

"We’ve been able to show that we can make every part of the gastrointestinal tract. We can make esophagus, stomach, small intestine, and colon," said Grikscheit, principal investigator, The Saban Research Institute, and surgeon at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

After children have surgery, doctors take tissue from the waste left over and then re-grow the cells in the lab, within months an organ can be made. Grikscheit said it would eliminate risk of organ rejection and a lifetime of medication.

"If we were able to make engineered intestine from your own cells it would be part of you, grow with you. It would repair itself," Grikscheit said.

It's a medical breakthrough that could have patients healing themselves.

DOWNLOAD and VIEW research summary

DOWNLOAD and VIEW the full-length interview with Dr. Tracy Grikscheit about regenerating organs