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Growing Lungs

Researchers have successfully synthesized a working lung for transplant into a pig.

One thousand four hundred and fifty-nine people are currently on the waiting list for a lung transplant within the U.S. alone (1). About 33% of those waiting for an organ transplant die waiting for the procedure that allows them to continue to live their lives with those around them.

In order to fulfill the needs of thousands of people in the unfortunate circumstance of needing an organ transplant, researchers have been vigorously investigating methods of synthesizing lungs without the need for a donor and the accompanying months-long wait time. In the past, research into the artificial synthesis of bodily tissue, skin, and blood vessels has all produced some success, yet an experiment involving the bioengineering of an entire lung had yet to be successfully executed.

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Image of the researchers at the University of Texas responsible for the research on bioengineered lungs. Image from the Daily Mail.

Recently, this research has grown increasingly fruitful and promising, with Joan E. Nichols of the University of Texas, along with researchers from other institutions, successfully transplanting bioengineered lungs into a pig. The animals survived for three weeks following the surgery without complications, which is a marked improvement from the few hours rodents, that underwent a similar procedure, survived.

In order to synthesize the organs, a 3D printed or donated lung’s internal protein structure must be populated with blood cells and tissue from the being receiving the transplant. The growing lungs are then treated with nutrients allowing for cellular reproduction and development over a thirty day period. The engineered lung easily assimilated to the pig’s circulatory systems, and unlike past projects, the organs were not rejected.

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A depiction of the circulation of blood through the lungs in relation to the heart and the pulmonary circuit. Image from Wikipedia.

In fact, the lungs were developing robustly, with a steadily maturing vasculature and an ability to be fully saturated with inhaled oxygen, proving the lungs’ capability of supporting a large organism.

Scientists are now eager to further develop studies into the artificial creation of lungs using the recipient’s own tissue and blood cells, but human trials and applications are yet to be viable, as some inadequacies have been noted by scientists outside of the group conducting the study in question.

As a Yale University biomedical engineer remarked, “While the bioengineered lungs linked up with the pigs’ circulatory systems, the organs weren’t connected with the animals’ pulmonary arteries — which carry low-oxygen blood for the lungs to replenish with oxygen from air breathed in. That left the pigs to rely on their natural right lungs for air after surgery.” (2).

Despite these deficiencies, the research conducted at the University of Texas Medical Branch has provided a major advancement in the field of bioengineering and has created fertile ground from which other studies may further perfect the initial procedure of creating organs for human transplant.


References and Footnotes:

  1. “Waiting List Candidates by Organ Type.” UNOS, 14 May 2015, unos.org/data/transplant-trends/waiting-list-candidates-by-organ-type/.
  2. Temming, Maria. “Scientists Successfully Transplant Lab-Grown Lungs into Pigs.” Science News, 3 Aug. 2018, www.sciencenews.org/article/scientists-transplant-lab-grown-bioengineered-lungs-pigs.
  3. Cover image from Science News.

 

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