Researchers Successfully Put Bioengineered Lungs Into Pigs

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Researchers at the University of Texas say they have successfully grown pig lungs in the lab - and it may help pave the way for use of lab-grown organs in humans too.

The finished bioengineered lung - featuring cells from the patient - was then transplanted into the pigs. Bioengineered organs are a hopeful solution to this problem, enabling needed organs to be engineered in a lab, then transplanted into the patient. Lung transplants are particularly problematic, with the number of people requiring one increasing worldwide, while the number of available transplantable organs has decreased.

On a "scaffold" in the laboratory, the appropriate cells were placed, which, after a 30 day culture, created a new lung. This was the source of the cells used to produce a tissue-matched bioengineered lung for each animal in the study.

As reported in Science Translational Medicine, the team built these viable lungs from the scaffolding of a donated organ. This left them with just the proteins of each lung - essentially, its skeleton.

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For the first time, a team of USA scientists was able to grow a lung, along with working blood vessels, and then keep it breathing inside a pig. Each pig received one bioengineered lung and retained an original lung. 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.

While six bioengineered lungs were created in total, only for of the pigs were able to have them transplanted due to surgical issues.

"We saw no signs of pulmonary edema, which is usually a sign of the vasculature not being mature enough", the researchers wrote.

After being transplanted, the blood vessels and alveolar tissue continue developing for approximately two months.

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

By using the pig's own cells, the researchers meant to avoid organ rejection by the pig's immune system.

We're still a ways off from that organ utopia, but we're at least a little closer to bioengineered lungs becoming a reality. And, if all goes well, Nichols and Cortiella hope to grow and transplant bioengineered lungs into people within 5 to 10 years.

"It has taken a lot of heart and 15 years of research to get us this far, our team has done something incredible with a ridiculously small budget and an amazingly dedicated group of people", they wrote.

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