All the animals that received the bio-artificial lung remained healthy for up to two months.
On August 1, Nichols and her team published a paper in the Science Translational Medicine where they documented the process of creating lungs from pigs that have been successfully transplanted into animals for extended periods of time. 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". Bioengineered organs are a hopeful solution to this problem, enabling needed organs to be engineered in a lab, then transplanted into the patient.
In the U.S. alone, more than 1,400 people are waiting for a lung transplant - there simply aren't enough donor lungs available to meet the need. That could prove invaluable to hospitals, which could end shortages of viable organs and improve their long-term transplant survival rates. "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".
On a "scaffold" in the laboratory, the appropriate cells were placed, which, after a 30 day culture, created a new lung. The medical condition of the animals was assessed at ten hours, two weeks, one month, and two months following the operation, which allowed the team to construct a timeline of the lung tissue's development.
As early as two weeks post-transplant, the bioengineered lung had established the network of blood vessels needed for the lung to survive. In a milestone study, researchers have successfully transplanted lungs bio-engineered into living pigs. This left them with just the proteins of each lung - essentially, its skeleton.
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This study was only meant to evaluate how well a bioengineered lung could adapt to an adult host organism, with positive results so far.
"We saw no signs of pulmonary edema, which is usually a sign of the vasculature not being mature enough", the researchers wrote.
The researchers said that with enough funding, they could grow lungs to transplant into people in compassionate use circumstances within 5 to 10 years.
We're still a ways off from that organ utopia, but we're at least a little closer to bioengineered lungs becoming a reality.
The new findings are good news for anyone on an organ donation list, according to one of the researchers.
"This project has taken 15 years to get to this point and we are thrilled that we did so well", Nichols said.