Lab-made organs successfully transplanted into LIVING PIGS in huge medical breakthrough

Henrietta Strickland
August 3, 2018

A group of researchers from the University of Texas Medical Branch were able to construct bioengineered lungs and transplant them into adult pigs with no medical complications.

According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 20 people die each day waiting for a transplant.

As reported in Science Translational Medicine, the team built these viable lungs from the scaffolding of a donated organ.

"In these studies, we talk about producing human lungs using human scaffolds", Dr Nichols explained. Lung transplants are particularly problematic, with the number of people requiring one increasing worldwide, while the number of available transplantable organs has decreased.

Scientists in the United States 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.

We're still a ways off from that organ utopia, but we're at least a little closer to bioengineered lungs becoming a reality. A further 1,400 Americans are awaiting a lung transplant.

"The vascular system of the bioengineered lung connected to the vascular system of the animal and there was no leakage of blood in the vessels of the bioengineered lung", lead author Dr Joan Nichols told IFLScience. For one, in terms of different cell types, the lung is probably the most complex of all organs. The scaffold is placed in a tank filled with a solution made of nutrients and the pig's own lung cells, following a carefully designed protocol.

In this case, the transplanted lungs were integrated into the body and grew normally, the researchers say.

The finished bioengineered lung - featuring cells from the patient - was then transplanted into the pigs.

For 30 days, the bioengineered lungs grew in a bioreactor before being transplanted into adult pigs. In some cases, it took as few as two weeks for the lung to grow a strong blood vessel network, the crucial component enabling them to survive.

"We saw no signs of pulmonary edema, which is usually a sign of the vasculature not being mature enough", the researchers wrote. However, the team did not measure how much oxygenation the lungs had provided, which will be researched in the future.

If all goes as hoped with the pig experiments, the researchers believe they could be just five to 10 years away from being able to create lab-grown lungs to transplant into people in compassionate use circumstances (people with life-threatening conditions and essentially no other treatment options).

But did the lung work?

The research took 15 years to complete with countless failed attempts, but the breakthrough could solve the organ donor crisis.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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