A new milestone in organ generation may be occurring before our eyes. For the very first time, scientists have managed to create lungs in the laboratory and transplant them into animals.
Was the experiment a complete success? And what does it mean for the future of organ transplants?
The study is based at the University of Texas, at its Medical Branch in Galveston. Immunologist Joan Nichols took the lead in the project, along with several of her colleagues.
What they managed to achieve is nothing short of remarkable.
Bio engineered lungs were transplanted in pigs. While the success was not long term, the lungs did let the pigs live for several weeks.
It may not seem like much, but it is huge compared to previous work in this area.
In the past, scientists could only manage to get a few hours out of such bio engineered lungs. A previous test on rodents only worked for a few hours, because the lungs did not have the complex blood vessel network required to survive long term.
Complex Transplant Process
The process of transplanting a bio engineered lung into a pig is not simple.
For this study, the team started by stripping the cells from the donor pigs’ lungs. They managed to do that by using a combination of sugar and detergent. The result? Sterilized, white scaffolds in the shape of a lung.
The next step involved adding blood vessel and blood tissue cells into the scaffold from the pig that was going to get the organ. These blood vessels and cells are crucial to the lung functioning for more than a very short time when it is transplanted.
When the lungs were engineered, they spent 30 days in a bioreactor tank. The team would regularly add a cocktail full of nutrients into the lungs, designed to help the cells in the scaffold stay in place and multiply.
With the 30 days complete, the lungs were ready for surgery. Each surgery went smoothly, with none of the pigs dying in the process.
To assess the condition of the lungs after various time periods, the team let one pig live for another 10 days, the second for two weeks, another for a month and the final pig for two months.
Every pig had accepted the lung. Even the pig that was allowed to live for a full two months did not show any signs of issues with the organ. Its breathing was normal and the lung had the type of bacteria in it that is common for pig lungs.
Issues to Iron Out
There are still some concerns with the process. One is that transplanted lungs of this nature are not connected to the pulmonary arteries. It worked with these pigs, as they were using their right lungs to get more oxygen in their bodies from the air.
If such a process is to work on a human, the organ will need to function with the pulmonary artery. That is the next step for these and many other researchers.