Brain and Body

This New Algorithm Could Be a Breakthrough Step Towards Regrowing Limbs and Organs

January 29, 2016 | Kelly Tatera

Artist's impression of a stem cell.

Organs could be “made to order” in the future.

A new algorithm developed by an international team of researchers may play a key role in leading scientists to discover how to regenerate limbs. The computer code model is called Mogrify, and it’s designed to make the process of growing stem cells quicker than ever before.

Back in 2007, Japanese researcher Shinya Yamanaka earned a Nobel Prize for being the first to reprogram cells into stem cells, but his work wasn’t very reproducible and involved a lot of trial and error. The goal of Mogrify is to compute the required set of factors needed to change cells instead, and so far, it’s proven to be highly successful.

Doctors would regenerate limbs and organs from pluripotent stem cells, which are stem cells that have the potential to become any type of specialized cell in the body — from eye tissues and neural cells to the cells needed to build a heart. Once the doctors fine-tune the process, theoretically, they’ll be able to regrow limbs, make organs to order, and heal the human body in a number of ways that aren’t possible today.

SEE ALSO: Stem-Cell-Grown Kidneys May End Need for Organ Donation

"Mogrify acts like a 'world atlas' for the cell and allows us to map out new territories in cell conversions in humans," explained Dr Rackham, who is from the Systems Genetics of Complex Disease Laboratory at Duke-NUS.

"One of the first clinical applications that we hope to achieve with this innovative approach would be to reprogramme 'defective' cells from patients into 'functioning' healthy cells, without the intermediate [induced pluripotent stem cells] step.” he continued. “These then can be re-implanted into patients, and should, in practice, effectively enable new regenerative medicine techniques."

In order to predict the best set of cellular factors for any given cell conversion, Mogrify draws on a database of over 300 human cell and tissue types. Since Yamanaka’s previous work relied on manual labor and trial and error, the scientists are confident that applying big data and computer processing to the equation will lead to a more accurate understanding of pluripotent cells.

"Mogrify is a game-changing method that leverages big-data and systems-biology,” study co-author Enrico Petretto, head of the Systems Genetics of Complex Disease Laboratory in the Centre for Computational Biology at Duke-NUS, said in a press release.

According to the American Transplant Association, more than 123,000 Americans are currently on the list for a lifesaving organ transplant. Another name is added to the national transplant waiting list about every 12 minutes, and on average, 21 people die each day from the lack of available transplant organs.

If the efforts to achieve this medical landmark of limb and organ regeneration continue on to be successful, hundreds of thousands of lives could be changed or saved — all thanks to a revolutionary algorithm.

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