Linda Griffith

Engineering organs

2 minute read

Linda Griffith, a bioengineer, may be best known for growing a human ear on the back of a mouse, but she’s accomplishing other feats of tissue engineering that could have more-immediate applications. The most recent is also personal; like up to 10% of women around the world, Griffith has endometriosis, a chronic condition that can take years to diagnose, in which uterine-like cells grow outside of the uterus, leading to inflammation, scarring, and painful periods. And like many of those women, Griffith has had multiple surgeries to remove the excess tissue and takes medications that simulate temporary menopause. Griffith spent most of her career at Massachusetts Institute of Technology—where she is currently scientific director of the MIT Center for Gynepathology Research—championing the need to shift away from animal models to better proxies for human disease, made from human cells. So after years of engineering liver and bone in the lab, Griffith has created the first uterine organoid, an entity that mimics the human uterus with endometriosis so researchers can better study the condition and pharmaceutical companies can test potential treatments. 

It wasn’t an easy “build”—she had to develop a new reagent that nurtures uterine cells so the organoids are as close to the real thing as possible, complete with blood vessels that deliver critical nutrients and factors such as oxygen that the cells need to grow. Ultimately, scientists will be able to take a biopsy from a patient and create such an organoid that they could use to test different treatments and find the therapy that will be the most effective for that patient. “That’s where organoids can be fantastically useful,” Griffith says. “We have all the genetic information and all the information from the patient’s exposure to infections, environmental chemicals, and stress that would cause the tissues to become deranged in some way, all captured in that organoid.”

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