Credit: University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.
The researchers hope that bioengineered lung transplants will be feasible in humans within a decade.
All in all, a lung transplant operation is a tedious, complicated job that does not come with guaranteed success. Over time, the number of lung transplant procedures has increased, and the operation is now an accepted treatment for end-stage lung disease. This technique could possibly be used in the future to respond to the shortage of organs for transplantation. Certainly, thousands of lives would be saved each year - and, today, we're nearing such a goal. "There was also no rejection of the bioengineered lungs".
The challenges were numerous, of course. One of the most significant hurdles has been getting the blood supply to marry up with the organ so that it can survive in the body.
In order to produce a bio-engineered lung, a support scaffold is needed that meets structural needs of a lung.
"Somewhere down the line we may be able to take stem cells from a person and produce and organ that is their organ, tissue matched to them, with no immune suppression needed that would function the way their own lung originally did".
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For 30 days, the bioengineered lungs grew in a bioreactor before being transplanted into adult pigs. 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. This left them with just the proteins of each lung - essentially, its skeleton. The pig's lung was not rejected, and previous problems with other versions of bioengineered lungs have not occurred with this one.
There was no signs of pulmonary edema, which is usually a sign of the vasculature not being mature enough, according to the researchers.
Eventually, bioengineered lungs could replace donor ones altogether.
"Here's the possibility of us making lungs for people who are waiting on that list and giving them hope", said Dr. Joaquin Cortiella, from the University of Texas medical branch.
"It has taken a lot of heart and 15 years of research to get this far", said Nichols and Cortiella.