Scientists in Boston have managed to create a limb in a lab. While the limb wasn’t for human use, it was for a rat – and was successfully implemented, as well. The impressive feat came as scientists and researchers have continued pushing the limits of what is possible with regards to actual cell creation. The limb can even circulate blood and respond to stimuli in the same way a traditional limb would respond to those things. The methods are still a long way from being implemented on humans, but it’s a step in a positive direction that could have a profound impact on the medical community as a whole.

The lead researcher on this particular study, Dr. Harald Ott of Mass General’s Department of Surgery and the Center for Regenerative Medicine pointed out that, “Once you suffer from an injury, whether it’s a burn or a heart attack or any sort of injury that leads to loss of viable tissue, your options are quite limited.” He went on to point out that, “Medicine has been good at making you survive. But in the end, there’s no solution or no cure for your problem.”

Lab Limb

That is the problem that this particular team, and this research attempts to correct. In humans, an application like this would be useful, but would definitely have some challenges associated with it. Ott went on to point out that, “If you look at amputees, typically those are young patients. Long-term immunosupression for a non life-threatening disease, and in reality amputation is often not a life-threatening condition once you’ve healed it — it’s an ethical dilemma. Over many years are significant [risks] — it leads to kidney failure, it can lead to cancer formation, etc.”

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Daniel Weiss, a lung regeneration specialist at the University of Vermont College of Medicine pointed out though that this does address a lot of the problems that currently exist in our health system. He said, “This is science fiction coming to life.” While it might seem like something out of a movie or out of a book, it’s something that can actually be worked into reality. At the end of the day, the impact could be profound.

Robot limbs have limits, as Ott pointed out. He said, “Even with prosthetics, many patients who have forearm loss do not regain full independence in terms of taking care of themselves, because the dexterity of these devices is not quite there yet.” That’s a problem that would be completely redressed with this particular application of limb development in labs. All it would require is a donor limb, which presumably, could be found the same way as organ donors are found today.