Lab-grown pig lungs may signal the future of organ transplants

Surgical team at UTMB during pig lung transplant

Surgical team at UTMB during pig lung transplant Credit UTMB

The next step of the research is to test whether the newly grown lung works by basically blocking the function of the pig's primary lung and seeing if they can still get oxygen into their blood and to the tissues. They also collected lung cells from the same pigs that would later receive transplants.

Six bioengineered lungs were created in total, though only four of the animals received them, due to surgical issues.

The findings appeared in the journal Science Translational Medicine. After that, they immersed the scaffold in a tank filled with nutrients, and added the pigs' own lung tissue cells using a "carefully designed protocol or recipe".

The researchers hope that the technology could one day be used for human lung transplants. If all is well, in the near future, we might finally have a solution to the organ transplant crisis hospitals across the globe have been facing for years. The lungs were reportedly cleaned using sugar and detergent, which left a "scaffolding" from which the scientists could work.

"The number of people who have developed severe lung injuries has increased worldwide, while the number of available transplantable organs have decreased", said Cortiella, professor of pediatric anesthesia. Animal recipients were survived for 10 hours, two weeks, one month and two months after transplantation, allowing the research team to examine development of the lung tissue following transplantation and how the bioengineered lung would integrate with the body.

"We saw no signs of pulmonary edema, which is usually a sign of the vasculature not being mature enough", said Nichols and Cortiella.

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The new findings are good news for anyone on an organ donation list, according to one of the researchers.

"In these studies, we talk about producing human lungs using human scaffolds", Dr Nichols explained.

But even after two months, the laboratory lung was not mature enough to supply the animal with oxygen. And to top it all off, the organs' vascular network integrated - sometimes as soon as two weeks later - with the pigs' natural system of blood vessels.

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).

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

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