Scientists successfully bioengineer and transplant lungs into pigs

Dr Joan Nichols and Dr Joaquin Cortiella in their lab

Dr Joan Nichols and Dr Joaquin Cortiella in their lab

During early trials, the lungs they engineered only managed to keep the lab animals alive for only a few hours as the lungs were unable to replicate the complex blood vessels that enable the transfer of oxygen into the blood stream. They also collected lung cells from the same pigs that would later receive transplants.

Next, scientists removed a single lung from each of the "patient" pigs to harvest the stem cells needed to bioengineer the new lungs.

As early as two weeks after being transplanted, the bioengineered lungs created a network of blood vessels they needed to survive, according to the study published August 1 in the journal Science Translational Medicine. This was the source of the cells used to produce a tissue-matched bioengineered lung for each animal in the study. Bioengineered organs are a hopeful solution to this problem, enabling needed organs to be engineered in a lab, then transplanted into the patient. And that could make the transplant waiting list a thing of the past. This technique could possibly be used in the future to respond to the shortage of organs for transplantation.

"Our ultimate goal is to eventually provide new options for the many people awaiting a transplant", said Nichols, professor of internal medicine and associate director of the Galveston National Laboratory at UTMB.
Lung transplants are particularly problematic, with the number of people requiring one increasing worldwide, while the number of available transplantable organs has decreased.

The animal cells and a nutrient cocktail were put in a tank with the lung scaffold, where the transplant lungs grew over the course of 30 days. This is a lung-shaped scaffold made totally from lung proteins.

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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.

"We saw no signs of pulmonary edema, which is usually a sign of the vasculature not being mature enough", said Nichols and Cortiella. However, even the two-month-old transplanted lung, while not showing any fluid collection that would indicate an underdeveloped organ, had not developed enough to independently supply the animal with oxygen. The researchers hope they will be able to grow lungs to transplant into humans within five to 10 years.

"This project has taken 15 years to get to this point and we are thrilled that we did so well", Nichols said.

By using the pig's own cells, the researchers meant to avoid organ rejection by the pig's immune system.

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