The first stage of success in tissue engineering of any specific organ is to produce small sections of tissue that are close enough to the real thing to be used in research. Given a methodology to reliably produce these tissue sections from the starting point of a cell sample, they can be used in drug testing, to investigate the detail mechanisms of genetic diseases and aging, and similar applications. It is also possible that even small amounts of tissue can be the basis for some treatments, as patches for localized injuries that are resistant to regeneration:
Three-dimensional "mini-stomachs" have been created from human stem cells. The tiny organs measure about 3 millimeters in diameter and can be used as models for the infections that are often precursors to peptic ulcers and stomach cancer. "This represents the first in vitro model of the human stomach, and it's not a cute little term - they really do look like 'mini stomachs.'"
When the researchers first tried to grow these tissues, they did so using embryonic stem cells - cells that originate from a human embryo. The growth process, from start to finish, took about a month, [and] the end product was a small organ that contained human stomach tissue made of at least eight different cell types. But before the researchers could celebrate, they had to make sure the technique could be deployed using cells from adults as well, a critical step in ensuring that the technique can be tailored to fit a specific patient. It worked in those cells too.
[The researchers] have started exploring whether this tissue could be used to patch ulcers in mice. Stomach ulcers are essentially defects in the lining of the organs; in severe cases, they can be "patched" to avoid pain and internal bleeding. Right now, patching ulcers involves growing gastric tissues from a sample removed during a biopsy. [But] growing tissues from stem cells would allow researchers to bypass that step altogether, because they could start with cells taken from a patient's blood. "I think if our animal trials go well we could certainly scale up and start patching ulcers within the next ten years."