Lung transplant lists are long, and suitable lungs are in short supply. Because of this, many scientists have tried to create bioengineered lungs, although without notable success until now. Previous versions of the engineered organs have resulted in edema and issues with blood vessels.
Recently, scientists have successfully engineered a lung explicitly made for the pig it was transplanted into by using cells from that exact pig and a type of donated organic scaffolding to create support for the lung tissue. It still uses a donor lung at its core, but due to a stem cell fueled regenerative process established by the researchers, the number of lungs that could be used for transplant should no longer be as limited. Lungs that were not considered suitable previously can still be used in this process to create a healthy DNA-matched lung for the organ recipient.
Using a donor pig’s lung, the scientists removed the cells and blood vessels, leaving behind a support structure of proteins. 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. By supplying stem cells, the researchers have been able to start development of essential blood vessels.
By using the pig’s own cells, the researchers intended to avoid organ rejection by the pig’s immune system. The pig (and future patients) will benefit from having a transplanted lung that is tailored to their own genetics.
After being transplanted, the blood vessels and alveolar tissue continue developing for approximately two months. The pig’s lung was not rejected, and previous problems with other versions of bioengineered lungs have not occurred with this one. In fact, the organ has developed an essential population of bacteria. The pig’s blood oxygen levels are healthy at 100%, but the scientists are unsure of how much of that is being created by the lung as it is still underdeveloped at this point in the research.
While they are not quite ready for human trials yet, the researchers believe we may see them used in humans within the next 5-10 years.
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