Scientists successfully transplant lab-grown lungs into pigs

Pearl Mccarthy
August 5, 2018

A research team at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston have bioengineered lungs and transplanted them into adult pigs with no medical complication. They used a solution of soap and sugar to wear away all the cells of the lungs, leaving behind only collagen, a protein that forms the support structure of the organ. The breakthrough paves the way for growing lungs to transplant into human patients in as little as five years.

In the United Kingdom, some 7,000 people are on the organ waiting list, and 350 need a lung transplant.

The lungs, which were tissue-matched to each individual pig, were grown in the laboratory. The pig's lung was not rejected, and previous problems with other versions of bioengineered lungs have not occurred with this one. 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.

Scientists in the United States first created a "scaffold" which came from an unrelated donor pig, achieving this using a process in which all cells and blood are removed from the organ, leaving just a skeleton. After the lung scaffolds were placed in a tank with a mixture of nutrients and the animals' own cells, the bioengineered lungs were grown in a bioreactor for 30 days before the transplants took place.

The researchers assessed the development of lung tissue and integration of the bioengineered lungs at 10 hours, two weeks, one month and two months after the transplants.

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

"We saw no signs of pulmonary edema, which is usually a sign of the vasculature not being mature enough", the researchers wrote.

Within just two weeks, the organs were accepted by the pigs and had redeveloped the network of blood vessels. "This is the first time a whole bioengineered lung has been transplanted". But they next want to study the long-term viability of the organs. Dr Nichols stated. "After 6 months to a year, we can bring the animals back, anesthetize them and block off their normal lung, forcing them to breathe and oxygenate using only the bioengineered lung".

"Here's the possibility of us making lungs for people who are waiting on that list and giving them hope", said Dr. Joaquin Cortiella, from the University of Texas medical branch. Besides transplants, bioengineered lungs are a great testing medium for experimental drugs, another line of work that can save countless lives.

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