Scientists have published breakthrough research detailing the successful transplant of lab-grown lungs into pigs. Researchers from the University of Texas Medical Branch published their findings in Science Translational Medicine.
The paper explains how the bioengineered lungs are grown on four lung scaffolds. They do this by removing all the cells and blood from pig lungs by washing them with a mixture of sugar and detergent.
What is left is essentially a protein skeleton of the lungs. Next up, these bare lungs are placed in a special mix of nutrients inside a tank. Once the lungs are fully grown they are transplanted into the recipient pigs.
Recipients show no sign of rejecting lungs
So far the team has successfully completed four transplants. In the study outlined in the recent research, it took only two weeks for the transplanted lungs to establish the network of blood vessels they need to survive.
So far the pig recipients have shown no signs of rejecting the lungs. However, they say further research is necessary to ensure that the organs are viable long-term.
“We saw no signs of pulmonary edema, which is usually a sign of the vasculature not being mature enough,” said the researchers. “The bioengineered lungs continued to develop post-transplant without any infusions of growth factors, the body provided all of the building blocks that the new lungs needed.”
Demand for organs outnumbers supply
The breakthrough is excellent news for those on transplant wait lists. In the US there are more than 1,400 people waiting for new lungs, many of whom may not receive them as demand outstrips supply.
“The number of people who have developed severe lung injuries has increased worldwide, while the number of available transplantable organs have decreased,” said Joaquin Cortiella author of the study.
“Our ultimate goal is to eventually provide new options for the many people awaiting a transplant,” said Joan Nichols, professor of internal medicine and associate director of the Galveston National Laboratory at UTMB.
Lab-grown organs may also be safer than traditional organ donation as they are grown using the recipient's cells and thus lessen the chance of rejection. The researchers say that if their planned research goes ahead, they are only five to ten years off being able to start organ trials in humans.
Human trials could start in as little as ten years
The first humans to receive the bioengineered organs would be patients who suffer from life-threatening conditions who essentially have no other treatment options.
People can need new organs for a variety of reasons. Some suffer from illnesses that weakens and ages the organs earlier, in other instances organs are damaged by cancer or other conditions. Violent accidents can also result in organs being damaged or destroyed and could qualify for a transplant.
Scientists in the sector hope that bioengineered organ transplants completely takes over traditional donation based transplants essentially making it possible for anyone that needs an organ to receive it.
The paper has been published in Science Translational Medicine.