Bioengineered lungs have been grown in a Texas lab and transplanted into adult pigs with no medical complication. This could begin solving the human transplant problem starting in about 5 years. They could grow lungs to transplant into people in compassionate use circumstances within five to 10 years.
Transplant organs were recovered from 10,281 deceased donors—more than a 3% increase from 2016 and a 27% increase over the last 10 years. There were a total of 34,768 transplants performed in 2017 using organs from both deceased and living donors—a new record for organ transplants in the United States. At Penn Medicine in Philadelphia, there are ongoing clinical trials where people are given organs from donors who are infected with hepatitis C. After the transplant, recipients take a drug that will clear them of the disease. So far, the trial is having positive results.
Another reason for the increase is the rise in drug overdose deaths across the US.
There are about 115,000 people in the USA waiting for transplants.
In 2014, Joan Nichols and Joaquin Cortiella from The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston were the first research team to successfully bioengineer human lungs in a lab. 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.
“The number of people who have developed severe lung injuries has increased worldwide, while the number of available transplantable organs have decreased,” said Cortiella, professor of pediatric anesthesia. “Our ultimate goal is to eventually provide new options for the many people awaiting a transplant,” said Nichols, professor of internal medicine and associate director of the Galveston National Laboratory at UTMB.
To produce a bioengineered lung, a support scaffold is needed that meets the structural needs of a lung. A support scaffold was created using a lung from an unrelated animal that was treated using a special mixture of sugar and detergent to eliminate all cells and blood in the lung, leaving only the scaffolding proteins or skeleton of the lung behind. This is a lung-shaped scaffold made totally from lung proteins.
The cells used to produce each bioengineered lung came from a single lung removed from each of the study animals. This was the source of the cells used to produce a tissue-matched bioengineered lung for each animal in the study. The lung scaffold was placed into a tank filled with a carefully blended cocktail of nutrients and the animals’ own cells were added to the scaffold following a carefully designed protocol or recipe. The bioengineered lungs were grown in a bioreactor for 30 days prior to transplantation. Animal recipients were survived for 10 hours, two weeks, one month and two months after transplantation, allowing the research team to examine development of the lung tissue following transplantation and how the bioengineered lung would integrate with the body.