A University of Tokyo-led research team has reversed diabetes in a mouse by injecting it with cells from a healthy pancreas grown in a rat, according to a recently published study.

The researchers conducted the study to show that it is possible to safely grow an organ inside another species for the purpose of transplantation. The feat indicates that such methods may be used to grow human organs in such animals as pigs and sheep in the near future.

The report, titled “Interspecies organogenesis generates autologous functional islets”, was published in Nature on Jan. 25.

To create the healthy pancreases, the researchers first genetically modified rats to lack the pancreas gene. They then injected mouse iPS cells into developing rat embryos, which forced them to grow pancreases using only mouse cells. Groups of cells, or islets, from these pancreases were then injected back into the diabetic mice.

It was the first time that an interspecies transplanted organ was used to provide effective treatment.

After the transplantation, the mice were able to regulate their blood-glucose levels for more than one year, according to the study. As the mice were genetically  matched to the pancreas cells, rejection was uncommon.

The researchers said they now plan to create monkey organs in pigs.

Photo credit: Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO)