Researchers have created the world’s first biological replacement limb, grown in a lab from the creature’s own cells.

Dr Harald Ott of the Massachusetts General Hospital Department of Surgery has grown the replacement forelimb for a rat, using the forelimb of another rat that had previously died as a template for the cellular structure to grow over. The donor limb was treated with a detergent solution to stop it’s cells, then was injected with healthy muscle and blood vessel cells from the recipient rat, and given the necessary oxygen and other nutrients to enable it to grow. Within three weeks, the new limb was ready for transplant.

While limb and organ transplants are not uncommon, the recipient has to take immunosuppressant drugs for the remainder of their life, to avoid having their body reject the donor tissue. This new technique, however, uses the recipient’s own cells to regenerate the limb, so immunosuppressants would not be required.

Dr. Ott says that the availability for this technique for use on human limbs is still at least another decade off, but this current breakthrough is promising. "This is science fiction coming to life," exclaims Dr Daniel Weiss, an organ regeneration expert at the University of Vermont College of Medicine in Burlington.

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