Regenerated Lung Tissue Offers Transplant Recipients Hope

Doctors have found a way to regenerate damaged lung tissue, offering patients awaiting donor organs new hope.

Medical researchers have found a way to rehabilitate damaged lung tissue that would otherwise prevent donor lungs from being transplanted into patients with late-stage lung disease, raising the hope of greatly increasing the availability of donor lungs.

Rehabilitating Damaged Lung Tissue

A new technique developed by doctors at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Columbia University, published this week in Nature Communications, that rehabilitates damaged lung tissue opens up the possibility of greatly expanding the availability of donor lungs for an increasing number of patients with late-stage lung diseases.

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Currently, doctors have about six hours to assess the condition of donor lungs before they are no longer able to be transplanted to patients on the list of those needing donor organs, which leaves little to no time to successfully rehabilitate damaged tissue. The new technique developed by Matthew Bacchetta, MD, an associate professor of Thoracic and Cardiac Surgery at Vanderbilt and his colleagues at Columbia can sustain lungs in a transplantable condition for up to 36 hours using cross-circulation, which gives doctors the time necessary to rehabilitate any damage to the lungs.

"Our work has established a new benchmark in organ recovery," said Bacchetta. "It has opened up new pathways for translational applications and basic science exploration. We have literally spent years refining this technology to improve the recovery and regeneration of organs."

The study focused on lungs, but the technique could be studied for other organs as well, possibly expanding the availability of a whole host of potential, in-demand donor organs. Bacchetta focused on lungs damaged by what's known as gastric aspiration, which is when material from the stomach is introduced into the lungs resulting in damage to lung tissue from the acidic material, which is a common reason for rejecting donor lungs for transplant.

Bacchetta hopes that the technique can be improved to maintain organs for days and even weeks, giving doctors more time to not just rehabilitate more severely-damaged organs, but also for giving doctors time to develop new techniques for repairing organ damage.

"We were driven not just by the clinical need but also by a basic science need of being able to create a system that provides durable physiologic support for the organ to regenerate," he said.

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