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The Use of Autologous Cells in Tissue Engineering

written by: Rose Kivi • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 5/31/2011

Harvesting autologous cells to repair or replace organs is quickly becoming a reality. Scientists have already successfully used autologous cells for tissue engineering in the research field and in real patient settings.

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    Autologous cells are cells that are harvested from an individual for the purpose of being used on that same individual. The use of autologous cells in tissue engineering has the benefit of avoiding an immunologic response. The patient will not reject the engineered tissue because it is their own tissue and they will not have to take immunosuppressive drugs.

    The best source for autologous cells is from the organ that needs repair or replacement because those cells already have the genetic coding for the organ. After the cells are isolated and removed in a biopsy, they are expanded in a culture in the laboratory. If a new organ is to be grown, the expanded cells are seeded onto a mesh scaffold shaped like the organ, where the cells will grow into tissue.

    Healthy autologous cells in sufficient quantities cannot always be harvested from a seriously damaged or diseased organ. Cells used in tissue engineering must be free from genetic defects. Defective cells would either fail to expand or produce genetically defective tissue.

    Autologous stem cells can be used in some situations when cells cannot be harvested directly from an organ. Autologous stem cells are stem cells harvested from the same individual on whom they will later be used. Bone marrow and blood are two common places where autologous stem cells are obtained.

    The role of autologous adult stem cells is currently limited. Researchers have yet to identify adult stem cells that are flexible enough to be turned into any type of tissue. Scientists are still exploring the uses and limits of autologous stem cells. Scientists have had promising results using autologous stem cells to treat spinal cord injuries and Parkinson's disease, to repair damaged heart tissue, and to grow bone. The use of autologous stem cells to restore bone marrow in cancer patients, who have had bone marrow destroyed from chemotherapy or radiation therapy, is well established.

    Besides being the ideal source of cells to use in tissue engineering, autologous cells do not pose the same ethical problems as embryonic stem cells.

    The future of autologous cells is promising. It being the ideal cell source for both immune response reasons and ethical reasons has led scientists to devote research to study the use of autologous cells in tissue engineering.