Regenerative medicine

SARS-CoV-2 infected mini stomach

Regenerative medicine is defined as any treatment that restores normal function to tissues or organs, with an emphasis on harnessing the body’s natural ability to repair itself. It tells us that we can tackle the root cause of disease and not just the symptoms.

The forefront of regenerative medicine

Surgical teams at GOSH are working at the very forefront of regenerative medicine – they are looking at ways to use stem cells to ‘grow’ different kinds of human tissue, exploiting the healing powers of stem cells to aid healing after surgery and even reprogramming the body to heal itself.

For example, our teams developed research programmes to repair mis-formed trachea by combining patient stem cells with a donor trachea, limiting rejection of the new organ. The team now hopes to produce a range of organs, from simple ones like intestines to complex functioning organs like kidneys, and is getting ever closer to those goals.

Revolutionary thymus transplants

More than 50 children have been treated in a GOSH Charity funded project that uses revolutionary thymus transplants and the power of regenerative medicine to ‘grow’ thymus tissue. The thymus is responsible for the body’s response to infection and babies born without a functioning thymus are likely to die before the age of two. In this new technique, GOSH teams use healthy thymus tissue that has been removed from another child during heart surgery – tissue that would otherwise be discarded during the operation. The thymus tissue is then ‘grown’ in the laboratory before implantation into the thigh muscle of the child without a working thymus.

Around 75% of children who received a thymus transplant at GOSH had a successful outcome, developing the ability to fight common infections, coming off treatments such as antibiotics and immunoglobulin injections, and were able to attend nursery and school normally.

We are the only centre in Europe – one of two worldwide – where children born without a thymus are receiving this treatment, which has been led by research. There is now the possibility to scale the treatment up to adults.

The team is also looking at using stem cells to grow ‘matching’ thymus tissue for when a child is receiving a new major organ, like a heart or kidney. While it is essential for a functioning immune system, the thymus can also cause the body to reject transplanted major organs, as it recognises them as ‘foreign’. By receiving lab–grown thymus tissue and a major organ from the same donor, rejection could hopefully be avoided.

They now hope to develop other organs and are already making great steps on using intestinal tissue to rebuild the gut.

Paolo de Coppi

Professor Paolo De Coppi, Paediatric Surgeon and Co-lead of the NIHR GOSH BRC Tissue engineering and regenerative medicine theme

"As a paediatric surgeon at GOSH, I can see regenerative techniques in surgery changing and improving all the time. Along with advances in technology, we’re developing a better understanding of different tissues in the body and how we might better heal or replace them. Because younger tissue is more able to regenerate and repair, regenerative medicine holds huge potential for children.

Alongside clinical work, I’m passionate about research. We’re using new ways of sourcing stem cells, growing tissue from scratch in the lab and modifying DNA inside cells to make them work better. We’re seeing a shift away from a reliance on organ and tissue donors – a process that often requires finding a good match fast – towards a future in which the same, or perhaps better, results could be achieved using the child’s own cells, or ready–made banks of patient–matched cells and organs."