The team harvested lungs from dead pigs to construct a scaffold for the bioengineered lung to hold fast to. The work, which was recently detailed in a study published by Science Translational Medicine, details the work and progress made over the last few years, reaching the point where no complication resulted from the transplants. After that, they immersed the scaffold in a tank filled with nutrients, and added the pigs' own lung tissue cells using a "carefully designed protocol or recipe". And that could make the transplant waiting list a thing of the past.
In the United States alone, more than 1,400 people are waiting for a lung transplant - there simply aren't enough donor lungs available to meet the need. If all is well, in the near future, we might finally have a solution to the organ transplant crisis hospitals across the globe have been facing for years.
"Our ultimate goal is to eventually provide new options for many people awaiting a transplant", said Nichols, professor of internal medicine and associate director of the Galveston National Laboratory at UTMB. To create this, the researchers used a lung from an unrelated animal that was treated with a special cocktail of sugar and detergent.
A bioengineered lung is produced using a support scaffold, which the researchers explain is the "skeleton" of a lung after the cells and blood have been eliminated using a detergent/sugar mixture.
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. Blood vessels and lung tissue cells were "repopulated", according to Science News.
The cells used to produce each bioengineered lung came from a single lung removed from each of the study animals.
"We saw no signs of pulmonary edema, which is usually a sign of the vasculature not being mature enough", said Nichols and Cortiella.
Within two weeks, the transplanted lungs had already begun to establish the robust networks of blood vessels they need to survive.
The project was carried out by Joan Nichols and Joaquin Cortiella from The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, who, in 2014, were the first research team to successfully bioengineer human lungs in a lab. Besides transplants, bioengineered lungs are a great testing medium for experimental drugs, another line of work that can save countless lives.
The research took 15 years to complete with countless failed attempts, but the breakthrough could solve the organ donor crisis.