Successfully bioengineered pig lungs may revolutionize organ transplants

Researchers have successfully transplanted bioengineered lungs into adult pigs, the University of Texas has announced. 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. The development provides hope for future transplant recipients.

Unfortunately, it's often the case that more people need organ transplants than there are available organ transplants, leaving many to wait on a list for months or even years, some patients passing away before an organ becomes available. Bioengineered organs are a hopeful solution to this problem, enabling needed organs to be engineered in a lab, then transplanted into the patient.

Medical science hasn't yet reached the point where this is possible, at least not in humans. However, the newly published study reveals successful bioengineered lung transplantation into adult pigs, highlighting how much progress has been made in only a few years.

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. Researchers harvested cells for the bioengineered lungs from the the pigs' lungs, using those to produce tissue for the transplant lungs that are matched to the recipient.

The animal cells and a nutrient cocktail were put in a tank with the lung scaffold, where the transplant lungs grew over the course of 30 days. After that month of growth, the bioengineered lungs were transplanted into the pigs, which were then terminated at durations between 10 hours and two months to study the lung tissue developed post-transplantation.

According to the study, all bioengineered lung recipients were healthy after receiving the transplants. In some cases, it took as few as two weeks for the lung to grow a strong blood vessel network, the crucial component enabling them to survive. Lung development continued in the recipients; researchers didn't find any signs of problems.

This paves the way for future studies that will allow the recipient animals to live for longer durations, providing data on long-term transplant success or issues. Assuming enough money can be sourced to fund the research, scientists are optimistic that such implants could be available for select human patients in at few as 5 – 10 years.