Medicine

Doctored lungs for pigs could cut transplant waiting lists

Doctored lungs for pigs could cut transplant waiting lists

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.

According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 20 people die each day waiting for a transplant. But what if it was possible to grow new, personalized organs for each patient in need of a transplant?

Scientists have once again proved the seemingly impossible is possible, growing lungs in a lab and then transplanting them into pigs.

Researchers have successfully transplanted bioengineered lungs into adult pigs, the University of Texas has announced.

"This is the first time someone has transplanted a whole bioengineered organ", Joan Nichols, associate director of the Galveston National Laboratory at University of Texas Medical Branch, told Digital Trends. A further 1,400 Americans are awaiting a lung transplant.

The procedure first starts with a support scaffold, a protein structure of collagen and elastin onto which the new lung will grow. The animals were studied at different times after the transplant.

Surgical team at UTMB during pig lung transplant
Surgical team at UTMB during pig lung transplant Credit UTMB

They then took the scaffolding and placed it in a tank of nutrients.

Eventually, bioengineered lungs could replace donor ones altogether. "There was also no rejection of the bioengineered lungs". 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.

"We saw no signs of pulmonary edema, which is usually a sign of the vasculature not being mature enough", the researchers wrote. "The bioengineered lungs continued to develop post-transplant without any infusions of growth factors, the body provided all of the building blocks that the new lungs needed".

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.

Now, in a paper available in Science Translational Medicine, they provide details of how their work has progressed to where no complications have occurred in the pigs as part of standard preclinical testing.