The doctors are hoping that within a decade, lab-grown human lungs will be transplanted into patients to save them from chronic lung diseases, cystic fibrosis and anything that threatens life and lungs.
In the United Kingdom, some 7,000 people are on the organ waiting list, and 350 need a lung transplant.
To manage these challenges, Joan Nichols, internist at the University of Texas Medical Branch, alongside her colleagues, have spent the last few years attempting to engineer lungs in laboratories, by using donated cells.
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.
All the animals that received the bio-artificial lung remained healthy for up to two months. This eliminated the cells and blood in the lung, leaving just a lungshaped scaffold of proteins behind. 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 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.
There was no signs of pulmonary edema, which is usually a sign of the vasculature not being mature enough, according to the researchers. They also collected lung cells from the same pigs that would later receive transplants. As early as two weeks post-transplant, the bioengineered lung had established the strong network of blood vessels needed for the lung to survive.
For this reason, future studies will look at long-term survival and maturation of the tissues as well as gas exchange capability. The researchers hope they will be able to grow lungs to transplant into humans within five to 10 years. Because of this, many scientists have tried to create bioengineered lungs, although without notable success until now.
The obvious interest of this research is how this translates into medical applications for human transplants.