Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) have taken the first step toward developing artificial, lab-grown limbs, building a rat forelimb with functioning vascular and muscular tissue.

This experimental approach could be applied to the limbs of primates— creating replacement limbs suitable for transplantation, a challenge because of the composite nature of limbs.

“Limbs contain muscles, bone, cartilage, blood vessels, tendons, ligaments and nerves— each of which has to be rebuilt and requires a specific supporting structure called the matrix. We have shown that we can maintain the matrix of all of these tissues in their natural relationships to each other, that we can culture the entire construct over prolonged periods of time, and that we can repopulate the vascular system and musculature,” Dr. Harald Ott, of the MGH Department of Surgery and the Center for Regenerative Medicine, said in a news release Tuesday.

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