WHAT’S BEING CLAIMED:
- Scientists from the University of Texas has successfully transplanted bioengineered lungs into pigs.
- The researchers initiated the experiment “to produce lungs for people who might need them.”
- Though some of the pigs died due to surgical complications after the transplants, those that lived were able to breathe normally.
There are a lot of patients needing lung donations, with some of them dying while waiting. It’s a fact that there are not enough organ donors—those who are a match for a patient.
The problem does not stop there as even when someone gets a match and a transplant, there is a high risk of failure because of rejection. This is exactly the reason why scientists keep on learning how to grow human tissues in laboratories.
In 2014, researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch learned how to produce human lungs. After numerous trials, they have successfully transplanted lab-grown lungs into pigs.
“This is a method to produce lungs for people who might need them,” researcher Joan Nichols, lead author of the study, told Newsweek.
The research article, titled “Production and transplantation of bioengineered lung into a large-animal model” was published August 1st in Science Translational Medicine.
The scientists used fish tanks and plumbing bought from Home Depot to build an incubator for the organs to grow. They used harvested pig cells and waited for it to grow, taking turns caring for the organs for a 30-day period.
Pigs were used because of their large chest cavities, Newsweek wrote. The scientists monitored the new lungs as they developed inside the pigs. Nichols said that a few of the pigs died due to surgical complications, but those that survived were healthy, and breathing normally.
The research was inspired by babies born with developmental disorders, particularly, diaphragmatic hernia. It is a condition in which a fetus’ diaphragm doesn’t develop that’s why the intestines move up into the chest cavity and restrict lungs growth.
“In really severe forms of this, the baby dies as soon as it is born,” Nichols said. “There is nothing that you can do,”
Lab-grown lungs are the only hope scientists think that could possibly save those babies.
Bioengineered lung transplantation looks promising but due to limited funding for studies like this one, further research is needed.
“If we had good funding and better equipment, I think that we could have this ready for first use between five and 10 years,” Nichols predicted.
There is hope that researchers are getting closer to using this technology in humans in the near future.