|Picture Taken On:
Vacanti's Boston Lab
|Behind the Camera:
The Vacanti mouse
Last Updated on 2010-3-02
by Dean Lucas
The picture often emailed without any caption on context didn't take
long to cause protest. Animal rights and right wing religious groups
were soon up in arms as they assumed that somehow someone had
genetically altered a mouse's DNA to grow ears. In October 11, 1999,
the anti-genetics group, Turning Point Project, placed a full-page ad
in the New York Times showing the photo of the mouse with the human
ear, with a misleading caption that read, "This is an actual photo of
a genetically engineered mouse with a human ear on its back".
However, this was totally untrue as ear was merely "grafted" on the
mouse with no involvement of genetics at all. In fact the Pope and
Catholic Church who have a strict anti-genetic stance has given its
blessing to Vacanti procedure.
↓ Article continues below ↓
In April, 1998 the British media was a buzz over a story that Jade Harris, from Middlesbrough, Britain would be the first girl to use the technology developed to grow the ear on the back of the mouse:
Girl may be first to grow artificial ear
A six-year-old girl could become the first person to grow an artificial ear using a controversial technique developed by American scientists.... Full Story
This gave false hope to many patients with similiar problems much to the chagrin of University of Massachusetts who were forced to send email like this:
The technique that the Joseph Vacanti had spent years developing was growing cartilage over biodegradable molds so that they could custom shape cartilaginous body parts, like ears. They used cartilage from a cows knee (There was no human tissue used at all in the procedure) placed it into a biodegradable mold shaped like a three year olds ear. To allow the cow cartilage to grow they needed a host which is the where the mouse came in.
As the immune system of most animals will reject foreign tissue the Vacanti team used a special nude mouse, a special type of mouse that through a rare mutation has a very weak immune system. These types of mice are very useful for tissue research as their bodies will not reject foreign tissues.
The cartilaginous ear was implanted under the skin of the nude mouse. Over time, the mouse grew extra blood vessels that supplied nourishment to the cow cartilage cells, that then grew into the biodegradable ear shaped mold. The "ear" was never transplanted onto a human, because it was grown from cow cells and would have been rejected by a person's immune system.
Sean G. McCormack was born with a rare disease called Poland's Syndrome which blocked the development of bone on the left hand side of his chest. This left major organs like his lungs and heart unprotected by the rib cage. Dr. Joseph P. Vacanti and his brother, Dr. Charles A. Vacanti worked together using the same technology as was used with the ear on the mouse to "grow" a cartilage rib cage that within a year had developed into a normal-looking chest that was able to grow along with him.
Charles Vacanti predicts that within 20 to 30 years the same procedure could allow scientists to grow any organ, for example a kidney or a liver, from a tissue sample.