Bioengineered Lungs Grown in a Lab Successfully Transplanted Into Living Pigs

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"These can be used to produce scaffolds or, if there are still cells, we can bank the lung and vascular cells from these lungs to bioengineer new lungs". Bioengineered organs are a hopeful solution to this problem, enabling needed organs to be engineered in a lab, then transplanted into the patient.

"The next step is a long-term survival study where 10-15 pigs are given one bioengineered lung using this procedure and then they are sent back to the farm for a year".

On Wednesday, researchers from University of Texas Medical Branch published a new paper in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

Scientists in the U.S. first created a "scaffold" which came from an unrelated donor pig, achieving this using a process in which all cells and blood are removed from the organ, leaving just a skeleton.

All of the pigs that received a bioengineered lung stayed healthy.

Two months later, the lungs were still fully functioning and had 100 per cent oxygen saturation, meaning all their red blood cells were carrying oxygen through the body. 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.

The cells used to produce each bioengineered lung came from a single lung removed from each of the study animals.

Once the four pigs got their personalized organs, Nichols, Cortiella and their collaborators kept tabs on the porcine patients, checking in 10 hours, two weeks, one month and two months after surgery. Already at two weeks, the bioengineered lung had integrated itself into the blood system and was colonized by the bacteria that make up the natural biome of the lung.

There was no signs of pulmonary edema, which is usually a sign of the vasculature not being mature enough, according to the researchers. "This is the first time a whole bioengineered lung has been transplanted". They said that they now hoped to do the same in humans within five to ten years and so help to reduce the long waiting times for people awaiting lung transplants. But first, coauthor Joan Nichols of the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston tells Popular Science, the team will "need to prove that the animals can survive on the oxygen provided by the engineered lung alone".

Given that some organs can not be transplanted from a living person to another (such as the heart), this narrows down the availability options even more, which is one of the reasons why the black market on organs is thriving.