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 hope that bioengineered lung transplants will be feasible in humans within a decade.
On a "scaffold" in the laboratory, the appropriate cells were placed, which, after a 30 day culture, created a new lung. They used lungs from already dead pigs and stripped the organs of blood and tissue cells, leaving behind a bare-bones framework of proteins.
Next, scientists removed a single lung from each of the "patient" pigs to harvest the stem cells needed to bioengineer the new lungs.
The next step of the research is to test whether the newly grown lung works by basically blocking the function of the pig's primary lung and seeing if they can still get oxygen into their blood and to the tissues. In a paper now available in Science Translational Medicine, they provide details of how their work has progressed from 2014 to the point no complications have occurred in the pigs as part of standard preclinical testing.
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"We were also able to improve from small animal studies to then transplanting them into a larger animal with a larger lung". The medical condition of the animals was assessed at ten hours, two weeks, one month, and two months following the operation, which allowed the team to construct a timeline of the lung tissue's development.
During the experiment, the pigs' left lungs were transplanted alongside a bioengineered lung. "The bioengineered lungs continued to develop post-transplant without any infusions of growth factors, the body provided all of the building blocks that the new lungs needed".
There was no signs of pulmonary edema, which is usually a sign of the vasculature not being mature enough, according to the researchers. But they next want to study the long-term viability of the organs.
By using the pig's own cells, the researchers meant to avoid organ rejection by the pig's immune system. However, the team did not measure how much oxygenation the lungs had provided, which will be researched in the future.
The research took 15 years to complete with countless failed attempts, but the breakthrough could solve the organ donor crisis.