Scientists transplant lab-grown lungs into pigs - they worked fine

Credit University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston

Credit University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston

Basically, the researchers removed one lung from a pig and after a couple of months, they all received a bioengineered lung which had been created from pig cells and extra protein scaffolding, which forced the cells to grow in the desired shape that would fit each animal body type.

The doctors are hoping that within a decade, lab-grown human lungs will be transplanted into patients to save them from chronic lung diseases, cystic fibrosis and anything that threatens life and lungs.

"The number of people with severe lung problems has risen globally, while the number of organs available for transplantation has declined". To create this, the researchers used a lung from an unrelated animal that was treated with a special cocktail of sugar and detergent. After that, they immersed the scaffold in a tank filled with nutrients, and added the pigs' own lung tissue cells using a "carefully designed protocol or recipe". The work, which was recently detailed in a study published by Science Translational Medicine, details the work and progress made over the last few years, reaching the point where no complication resulted from the transplants.

The team found that before the pigs were euthanized, the transplanted lungs developed without any outside help, building blood vessels they needed for survival. For instance, in just two weeks, the transplanted lungs had established a stable network of blood vessels, which it needs in order to survive.

"In these studies, we talk about producing human lungs using human scaffolds", Dr Nichols explained.

Once the four pigs got their personalized organs, Nichols, Cortiella and their collaborators kept tabs on the porcine patients, checking in 10 hours, two weeks, one month and two months after surgery.

"We saw no signs of pulmonary edema, which is usually a sign of the vasculature not being mature enough", the researchers wrote. The transplants were successful and none of the pigs involved rejected the transplants. However, even the two-month-old transplanted lung, while not showing any fluid collection that would indicate an underdeveloped organ, had not developed enough to independently supply the animal with oxygen.

This paves the way for future studies that will allow the recipient animals to live for longer durations, providing data on long-term transplant success or issues.

The obvious interest of this research is how this translates into medical applications for human transplants.

We're still a ways off from that organ utopia, but we're at least a little closer to bioengineered lungs becoming a reality.

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