[H]ardOCP: We Can Now Successfully Transplant Lab-Grown Lungs in Pigs

Surgical team at UTMB during pig lung transplant

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. In a milestone study, researchers have successfully transplanted lungs bio-engineered into living pigs.

A bioengineered lung is produced using a support scaffold, which the researchers explain is the "skeleton" of a lung after the cells and blood have been eliminated using a detergent/sugar mixture.

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. Researchers harvested cells for the bioengineered lungs from the the pigs' lungs, using those to produce tissue for the transplant lungs that are matched to the recipient. 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. For instance, in just two weeks, the transplanted lungs had established a stable network of blood vessels, which it needs in order to survive.

The team found that before the pigs were euthanized, the transplanted lungs developed without any outside help, building blood vessels they needed for survival.

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"We were also able to improve from small animal studies to then transplanting them into a larger animal with a larger lung". The lung scaffold was placed into a tank filled with a carefully blended cocktail of nutrients and the animals' own cells were added to the scaffold following a carefully designed protocol or recipe.

During the experiment, the pigs' left lungs were transplanted alongside a bioengineered lung. Animal recipients were survived for 10 hours, two weeks, one month and two months after transplantation, allowing the research team to examine development of the lung tissue following transplantation and how the bioengineered lung would integrate with the body. While the lungs functioned during the study, they weren't connected to pulmonary arteries. It took 30 days to foster the organs before they were ready for transplants, but they didn't need infusions to keep working. This is an encouraging advance in the field of organ and tissue transplantation and transplantation.

The researchers said that with enough funding, they could grow lungs to transplant into people in compassionate use circumstances within 5 to 10 years.

"It has taken a lot of heart and 15 years of research to get this far", said Nichols and Cortiella.

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