One Day, Growing Spare Parts Inside the Body

A surgeon is working on a different method of organ regeneration, so far only in animals — using another part of the body to nourish the replacement as it grows and is ready for transplanting.

Comments: 48

  1. I've seen this in science fiction for years, so it's really nice to see it slowly become a science fact.

  2. The miracle of Science never ceases to amaze me. God bless this doctor and others like her.

  3. Science is not a miracle. It's the hard work, skill and knowledge of real people down here on earth.

  4. Interesting story but I can't help but think that more resources should be spent on preventing prematurity which would have a much bigger impact on this disorder. America, after all, ranks near the bottom in premature births.

  5. “I saw a new world coming rapidly. More scientific, efficient, yes. More cures for the old sicknesses. Very good. But a harsh, cruel, world. And I saw a little girl, her eyes tightly closed, holding to her breast the old kind world, one that she knew in her heart could not remain, and she was holding it and pleading, never to let her go.”
    ― Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go

  6. That world only existed in fiction.

  7. Shouldn't every single infant or toddler in America with a congenital life-threatening disorder or disease be given every chance for leading edge treatment by someone with the skills and training of this dedicated surgeon, and by implication all the trained professionals supporting her and her colleagues? I look at this sweet baby with tubes coming out of him and see my own healthy kids and say, "there but for the grace...." . Shouldn't the narrow-interest fools in Congress find a way to once-and-for-all fix our health care delivery system so this can be true in the future for all kids, and the system itself health and patient-centered, not profit-centered? Sure, it takes big money to accomplish this, but we can prioritize our resources and design a "revenue-neutral" structure so the money is available for a humane, patient-centered system that begins virtually at birth. Hillary tried this years ago, didn't properly gauge the politics of predatory greed, and got slammed to the mat for her trouble. Is something akin to "Medicare for All" the slothful "victimology" Romney recently described in his pitch to billionaires behind closed doors? Or is this the vision of America most of us actually see and desire when we look at this little guy struggling for life? Make up your minds; I have made up mine.

  8. RJ - people come to short bowel syndrome in myriad ways - not just prematurity. My full-term son had a small obstruction repaired at birth. The repair site ruptured 10 weeks later and he lost a significant portion of his small intestine. He's been on I.V. and g-tube feeds his entire 8 years. There are many, many others like him who develop short gut due to other factors.

  9. My thoughts and prayers are with this baby and his family. I pray that doctors can cure intestinal diseases.

  10. The costs of these kinds of transplants will be gigantic. The health care system has already had to resort to what is a kind of national draft of those capable of paying for insurance. But those draftees get no tangible guarantees that most will be able to pay what will probably continue to be rising premiums. The Affordable Care Act is too young and not even in full effect yet to really know what will happen nationally..

    What will happen to premiums with yet another medical "miracle". Medicine seems to be both an art and a science and both require massive subsidies to be "State of the Art.." The country may not be able to afford such expensive cures.

    I know I can't.. The photos are somewhat misleading. The infant is shown as the prime recipient. But these operations will be available to everyone, including the very old and very worn out.

    The ugly word "rationing", or worse, "privileged access" (affluent party members only?) is never mentioned. Somehow, every new medical advance is going to have to pass muster that it is, indeed, "affordable care". Somehow, that will be inevitable.

    There is a problem with Sci Fi dreams becoming reality: they tend to be more ignorant of accounting and economic theory that the ancient Romans were. The Romans always used the wild card of slavery to balance their budgets, even if slavery involved the entire social order far more frequently then most of them liked.

  11. All new technologies tend to be more expensive in the short term. In the long term, I could see this treatment being much more cost effective than a lifetime of IV feeding along with the all the misery it causes.

  12. Dr. Grikscheit, one of the many amazing miracle workers in medicine today, unwittingly provides astute commentary the health care crisis we are facing in America. Apply these statements of hers, purposely taken out of context, to our out-of-control health care system:

    a) “We have a huge problem that if we solve it, it will change the future for a lot of children,” she said.


    b) “The really fascinating thing is how to put something together that came out wrong and make it as right as possible,” she said.

    Also, it is very time-consuming and expensive.

    Perhaps, reducing the number of premature births, and understanding how come necrotizing enterocolitis arises among some premature infants might also be fruitful avenues of research, and ones less costly to society in the long run. In other words, prefer preventive techniques over "wrong from birth" repairs. But such measures wouldn't make for dramatic journalism, would they? Or excite those who okay research grants. When was the last time you got excited about a news story reporting the decline of rare health problems due to prevention? You didn't.

    I am happy for infant Mark Barfknecht, and his parents who will do anything for him, but we have an emerging nightmare on our hands in the developed world. We have medical cures, fixes and repairs, that we,as a society, will not be able to afford, or ration properly, except to the highest bidder, which is who always wins in a capitalist, market-driven system such as ours.

  13. Tell that to the anti-abortion crowd, and the crowd opposed to testing for genetic defects during pregnancy because oh all life is so sacred, and to all the people who think it's okay to have children late in life despite the risks. All of them are contributing to the vastly growing demographic of "babies that come out wrong" who are costing everybody so much to fix. If we as a society think that every conceived fetus should and HAS to come to term, including the broken ones, then we as a society should stop whining about health costs and shoulder the burden of fixing the broken ones. Or, alternatively, ideally, get over ourselves and prevent broken ones from being continued to term as much as we can, and save everybody a lot of grief and money.
    (I'm not saying that this particular digestive disorder is genetic or detectable before birth, but there are plenty of other ailments which are, and which fall into the same category of broken babies that are too expensive to fix but could have been prevented from coming to life altogether).

  14. Thank G-d for those interested in devoting time in their lives to reasrch, for caring enough about humanity. This doctor should be commended for her efforts along with all the others whose stories we don't know about.

  15. Medical science is amazing and wonderful but I agree with RJ that the greater emphasis should be on advances that prevent premature birth, thus avoiding such problems. Still, such innovations as this doctor's would surely have wider applications that might benefit a host of patients.

  16. Like Mark in this article, our daughter was born three months prematurely many years ago. At that time there was no emerging research, no possibility to save her tiny life and under-developed organs as with the work of Dr. Grikscheit and other physicians today. She did survive with the dedicated vigilance of medical staff.
    It is wonderful to learn about this developing research.

    I have been following each of this fine three part series and hope there will be follow-ups in the months to come with further progress on each phase.

  17. Why do we, a supposedly civilized society, continue to torture innocent animals for our own gain? Baby Mark deserves to live. But the answer is not savagery. We must force scientists to develop new methods of research. They are our best and brightest; surely they can figure out a way to advance medicine without harming defenseless, sentient creatures.

  18. There's no way to adequately simulate the growth of a new potential organ. If you would like to spend time modeling the entirety of a mammal, from its immune system on up, please do so. However, I suspect that even the most flawed models are still out of our reach. So do we terminate all scientific research in the name of your feelings on animals?

  19. Lily, let's talk again when it's your own baby dying slowly and the only hope of saving him is using animal-tested research. Something tells me you'd be singing a different tune then. I am yet to meet a mother who places the life of a pig above that of her dying child. And that does not mean she doesn't like pigs.

  20. Firstly, sincere compliment to Dr. Grikscheit, to whom I wish greatest successes for the precious help to so many innocents.
    Secondly, I suggest him to remember that stem cell can tranpsort every quantum-biophysical-semeiotics Constitutions and Dependent Inherited Real Risks, as I wrote yet on NYTimes website:
    As a consequence, it is unavoidably necessary to select stem cells, without quantum biophysical constitutions of CAD, type 2 DM, Cancer, a.s.o.

  21. It is heartening to see that surgeons like this Dr.G are doing amazingly good work at the frontier of medical science. Philanthropists everywhere must unite to fund such programs instead of billions going to fight elections.
    Thanks NYT for publishing these inspiring stories.
    Political rubbish can wait to be printed elsewhere.
    Srihari, Chennai, India

  22. Except that your choice of 'political rubbish' is what ensures the money is there for the undertaking of this work.

  23. My heart goes out to this family and all the families dealing with similar health issues. May we all count our blessings!

  24. My 9 year old daughter has, since birth, been connected to an IV that runs straight into her heart. IV TPN (Total Parenteral Nutrition) running 18 hours/day keeps her alive, because she was born with Gastroschisis. Her intestines floated outside of her abdominal wall and the abdominal wall closed off and choked the intestines during fetal development. This is not caused by prematurity, but the result is Short Gut. Thank you, Dr. Tracy Grikscheit, for this incredible research that could one day let my daughter eat, drink and be IV free.

  25. While this treatment may be expensive in the short run it will probably prove to be better in the long run because it uses the person's own tissue. There will not be a problem due to donor rejection or the recipient's immune system rejecting the donor tissue. The key thing in all of this seems to be perfecting the scaffolding and making sure that the cells grow into what they need to be. It may even help those of us who wear out our joints as we age so that, instead of needing replacement joints that may cause more problems, we can "grow" replacement joints that will work the way they need to.

  26. In many ways it is a tragedy that millions of dollars are spent on "miraculous" saving of premature infants, only to save them for endless additional "miracles". And at the other end of our lives additional millions are spent keeping us old people going for a brief period. And what can we do about it? Many are appalled at the very idea that an old, ailing person might want to peacefully end life before they are declared by 2 physicians that they are terminally ill and probably have only 6 mo. to live - and that scenario only possible in a very few states.

  27. As long as we listen to and elect people whose primary goal is meddling in the lives of others, this is a problem we will perpetuate.

    The Indians had the answer. They went off and sat in a cave, alone, until the end came. Do we have enough caves?

  28. Human body is not a machine; it's a living system. It does not have parts. The money would be better spent uncovering why many pregnancies end up in premature birth. That said, if it were easy and safe to save any individual baby by such technique, I'd support it. However I fear that the logic which thinks of bodys systems as 'parts' doesn't consider the future health problems of such baby.

  29. I feel so sorry for the women who have had the heart-sickening experience of having a baby with a premature birth and with severe health conditions. Additionally, my heart goes out to women who have a stillborn baby and women who have been saddened by an unexpected termination of their pregnancy. I want to call attention to the fact that many times spontaneous abortions (miscarriages) occur when a fetus is malformed. It is nature's recognition and rectification of an unhealthy situation. Many women have spontaneous abortions and never realize it is happening. This occurs more often during the first twenty weeks of pregnancy. What the woman may experience in these cases is simply extreme menstrual cramps. To read more about pregnancy ending in miscarriage, reference British Medical Journal, BMJ 1997;315:32

  30. This has been a facinating set of articles, however the timing of it is suspiciously linked to the presidential election cycle. The debates around stem cell research is deeply polarized and tied to right to choice/right to life debates.

    As these articles illustrate, the topic of stem cells and new medical technologies that research in that area has advanced seems so important to advancing medicine that maybe it is time for it to move above politics. Maybe at some point in the future this will be true, but I for one am anticipating that this starts to re-enter the political dialog and the topic is being raised now only for political reasons and not to share the advances in medicine with the general public.

  31. How can this be politically motivated, I don't get the connection? Which party or political group benefits from the publication of this article at this time?

  32. Some people seem to find ulterior motives in everything. Suspicion has its place, but not here. You'd be more realistic being suspicious of that MacDonald's hamburger you're cramming into your mouth.

    You failed to understand, these are not "suspicious" stem cells. They are not harvested in a 'fetus factory,' but taken from bone marrow or blood serum.

  33. As someone who has been involved in this area of research for 3 decades, I am always fascinated about how a series of articles such as this, which open the door to cutting-edge medical advances such as these for the lay public, can coexist with the never-ending stream of opinion pieces in the same paper about the strangling effect that health care expenditures have on the economy. I understand that one is news and the other is editorial opinion, but I believe that honesty demands some discussion of the COST of these miracles and how that cost fits in to the idea that we cannot do everything for everybody. Wrestling with that idea is a societal problem, not a medical problem--and our society will not deal with it.

  34. When my son was 12 (he's 19 now), he asked me how much did it cost to go to Harvard. He was collecting game cards, and I told him the price of lots of Yu Gi Oh cards. He looked up the criteria to get into such a university and worked diligently through his high school years to meet his academic goals.

    In 2009, the spring of the end of his sophomore year, he was leaning toward a major in biology, and having an innocent fun-filled summer. July 2009, I became the recipient of a Bovine Prosthetic Aortic Valve to replace a bicuspid valve caused by a congenital defect. My beautiful boy came to visit me in the hospital with all post-surgical drains and equipment. He noticed my scar from having a sternotomy, and in that moment, he decided I should not have to endure another open heart surgery procedure to replace the valve in 15-20 years. I was 48 and now am 51.

    Long story short, he was awarded a scholarship to attend the Advanced Studies Program at St. Paul's School the summer of his Junior year. He studied Molecular Biology, and fell in love with research. Consequently, he applied to 8 universities, and on a lark, he applied to Brown University, knowing it was a long shot to be accepted. The spring of 2011, he was accepted to Brown University to study Biomedical Engineering. As a consequence of my surgery, he is now on his way to becoming a tissue engineer. Wouldn't it be ironic if he could somehow collaborate with Dr. G.? All life is precious. We will find a way.

  35. The work that Dr. Grikscheit is doing is exactly what is needed to translate basic science discoveries in labs into new realities for patients at the beside. As a stem cell researcher myself, I find this article and this series fascinating. I especially appreciate the great writing that balances excitement with realities such as costs, timing, and challenges.
    In terms of costs, it is correct that stem cell-based regenerative medicine of the kind where we can replace organs and tissues is not going to be inexpensive, but consider the massive costs of chronic health problems (trillions) that stem cell technology will reduce.
    As the article suggested we must combine a high degree of patience with our excitement over this "sci-fi" come true. This is work that develops over decades not just a couple years, but still it's come a long way.
    For more perspectives on this field check out my lab's blog at .

  36. I have never seen a new born that approached being a person or that even had the mental development of a cat or a dog. Yet parents who are faced with such a catastrophe do not have the option of simply letting the fetus die. The premature fetus will ultimately develop an awareness of his condition His life will be painful and limited. HIs parents will be improverished by medical expenses limiting both their and his siblings lives. I think it a shame that parents don't have the option of just pulling the plug.

  37. I was born three months early, in the early 1980s, long before contemporary advances in neonatal care. The doctors told my parents that I would probably be spend my life a wheelchair, and that I would have serious developmental disabilities. They suggested that it would be the kindest thing to let me starve to death. My parents refused. Good thing they did, too, as I am perfectly normal.

    Some parents do choose to take premature babies off life support. That's their choice and they are entitled to it.

    Comparing babies to grown cats and dogs is a bit cold, by the way, given the evolutionary differences in the three species.

  38. While I'm very pleased with the work of Dr.Grikscheit ( I have a chronic kidney disease) I am bothered by the increasing number of "premies' who's parents are so unhealthy.
    There are possibly many stories included in this article.

  39. Why does Ishiguro's novel, Never Let Me Go, come to mind?

  40. I loved that novel; it still haunts me. Luckily, we're talking about regenerating a person's own organs!

  41. Can't we stop arguing about the cost of this magnificent work, and whether or not it would be "better" to concentrate on stopping premature births, or some other alternative?

    This sort of thing is not a zero sum game. They all are "better" and we can pay for them all. It just takes the will and the realization that virtually every such advance moves from exotic and expensive to normal, often reducing overall costs and enriching our lives in ways not measurable in dollars and cents .

    Of course it's not just in medicine this is true. Look at almost everything we consider normal in our lives now. Think for example about how we are communicating right here. How about flying somewhere for a little vacation? How exotic these things were just a relatively short time ago!

    We humans produce some wonderful, creative people who enrich all our lives. We just have to give them the chance to do it.

  42. The people making the leap from "growing organs in a lab" to "creating entire other humans for the purpose of harvesting them" need to have a reality check. Even in a dystopian world, practicality and cost will rule: it is far cheaper and more convenient to grow a single new organ in an existing person than to grow and care for a clone until such times as it is needed. Unless we're talking about whole body transfers, at which point we can start having the "Never let me go" discussion.

    Now for the question: we've been able to grow organs outside of people for a number of years. I remember conversations about lab-grown kidneys and bladders. What happened?

  43. I think this is amazing work. I didn't read the entire article but I wonder if this technique can work on adults with intestinal diseases like Chron's disease.

  44. Will it be possible and practical to grow extra muscles for specific purposes? For example someone with a "bad back" doubling up on Latissimus Dorsi or Trapezius to give more structure to the back?

    If your career is a Bicycle racer, can you have additional Yastus (Yastae?) grown in?

    I'm not asking if these are moral or ethical or economic, in that all of those are moving targets.

    Different question, where is this aim with the procees of understanding Epigenetics? If the two disciplines are joined mightn't the process be one of "software" rather than "hardware"? ( Where "software' refers to communicating to the tissue to replicate itself through epigenetics and "harware" refers to building the unit and then implanting it. )

    Congratulations on your work. Thank you for working towards a Utopian future.

  45. I saw a news program not too long ago on developing muscles and flesh on legs that had a hole blown in them from the war in Afghanistan. The doctors used a pig's bladder I believe. I thought it was miraculous and worth pursuing. I have not seen mention of this again.

  46. Yet another potential application for the use of stem cells, AND what better source of stem cells than umbilical cord blood collected and stored at birth? It's a "perfect match" to the patient, the cells are ABUNDANT in number, and are the most adaptive and potent stem cells " a body could want!" A shame that everyone isn't saving them for future use. Only about 5% of families currently save their baby's stem cells at birth.

    Cord blood has been used to successfully treat over 80 illnesses to date. The good news is that the availability to bank cord blood has rapidly increased in the last few years and is affordable and available to most families.

    Dr. Brent W. Bost, MD, MBA, FACOG
    Vice President, Southeast Texas OB/GYN Associates, PA
    Author of "The Hurried Woman Syndrome" and Advisor

  47. My daughter developed perforated NEC 18 years ago. She was born at 33.5 weeks and lost 2/3 of her large intestine. She had a 50% survival rate and told she would be short. I worried whether she would lead a "normal" life especially, when she later developed an unrelated hearing loss.

    She is now 5"8" and just entered an Ivy League college. Last year, she was named one of Glamour Magazine's Amazing Young Women, writes for Huff Post along with other publications including her own internationally recognized blog, interned for a Congress Member and a Senator and has testified before the DOJ among other hearings. I am grateful that her Dr. did everything he could to save her and we had the insurance to pay for it.

    On the other hand, she was hospitalized for 6 weeks and it was me who sat in the NICU every day and became a stay-at-home mother. I am now being punished by the judicial system in a divorce for giving up my career. Meanwhile, her father refuses to pay to revise the scar now that she is old enough to do so. The Judge is allowing him to use her scar revision against her. Its disgusting.

    She defied the odds not by chance but because I never let allowed anyone to limit her dreams. It took sheer guts and determination to defy the odds. I am speaking out so that other parents who are in the midst of this realize the possibilities for their child. I never accepted the crumbs dolled out to her and now, nor will she.

  48. This is amazing work--the bionic baby indeed. What could kidney transplant patients hope for in some distant future?