Scientists successfully bioengineer and transplant lungs into pigs

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In a landmark study of regenerative medicine, researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) have transplanted bioengineered lungs into adult pigs, with no visible complications.

In 2014, Joan Nichols and Joaquin Cortiella from The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston were the first research team to successfully bioengineer human lungs in a lab.

The team accomplished this by creating a lung scaffold from the organ of another animal using both detergent and sugar to wipe out all the cells and blood - only the proteins were left.

The doctors are hoping that within a decade, lab-grown human lungs will be transplanted into patients to save them from chronic lung diseases, cystic fibrosis and anything that threatens life and lungs.

People waiting for lung transplants could soon be the recipients of lab-grown organs.

They then created a cocktail of nutrients and lung cells from the pig which was to receive the transplant, and placed it in a tank with the organ skeleton. They then regenerated the lung over the course of a month using the recipient pig's cells to create biological tissue that the pig's immune system will see as its own. For instance, in just two weeks, the transplanted lungs had established a stable network of blood vessels, which it needs in order to survive.

This study was only meant to evaluate how well a bioengineered lung could adapt to an adult host organism, with positive results so far. The pig's lung was not rejected, and previous problems with other versions of bioengineered lungs have not occurred with this one.

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The researchers assessed the development of lung tissue and integration of the bioengineered lungs at 10 hours, two weeks, one month and two months after the transplants.

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

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

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

This paves the way for future studies that will allow the recipient animals to live for longer durations, providing data on long-term transplant success or issues. Scientists believe that if they secure adequate funding for their research they will have managed to transplant laboratory lungs into humans in five to ten years from today.

Bioengineered organs are something of a holy grail in transplantation research.