Scientists at the University of York are studying urothelial cells in hopes of one day being able to grow synthetic, bio-engineered bladders for pharmaceutical research and transplantation.
The York researchers have developed a series of models that mean they can study human urothelial cells in the laboratory. Of these models, the most important is their development of a urothelial cell sheet that functions as it would in the bladder. When the researchers create a wound in this model, the cells regenerate to repair the damage – just as they would in the body.
Pharmaceutical companies should soon be able to use the research models to test therapies for the bladder, but the longer term aim for this research is to help patients who have lost bladder function or have had all or part of their bladder removed because of cancer.
Research leader, Professor Jenny Southgate, explains: “The models we have developed mean that we have been able to examine how urothelial cells in the bladder self-renew to cope with injury.
“With this basic understanding of how the cells work, we are moving towards being able to engineer new bladders. Currently, substitute bladders can be created by using a section of the patient’s bowel, but this can lead to complications, as the bowel does not have the same urine-holding properties as urothelial cells. One solution could be to use laboratory-grown urothelial cells to line a section of bowel.”
The hope in the long term is that collaborative research to combine Professor Southgate’s work with biomaterial studies at the Universities of Durham and Leeds could mean engineered bladder tissue ready for transplantation.