Scientists Are Learning How To Refurbish Animal Lungs For Human Transplants

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You might go as far as to buy a refurbished phone or laptop over a shiny new one – but what about a refurbished organ? Reconditioned human and animal lungs could be the transplants of the future thanks to the work of surgeon Harald Ott and his team at Harvard Medical School.

Ott’s lab has been busy turning the organs of rats and pigs into those that will be accepted by the human body. The process involves chemically treating the organ to remove all the animal’s cell. This leaves behind is a scaffold-type structure, which the scientists then colonize with the patient’s stem cells.

So far, the team has worked on kidney and heart regeneration, and soft tissue grafts, such as a whole forearm, which they hope will benefit the 10 million people globally who have had a limb amputated. The latest organ to be put to the test is lungs.

As of right now, the team is able to refurbish the animal lungs with human stem cells and transplant them into pigs and rats. (Rat lungs are far too small to be used as human transplants but their organs make good test subjects, particularly as scientists can remove all their cells in as little as two hours.)

Sadly, the animals cannot live long with the transplanted organs because they contain foreign (human) cells. However, the results are promising in terms of how successful the refurbed lungs would be in human patients and show that they can indeed function in living organisms.

There may be some way to go before these “refurbished” organs can be transplanted into human bodies but when they do, it could be revolutionary.  According to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN), close to 115,000 patients are awaiting a lifesaving organ transplant in the US alone, and every day, an average of 20 will die having not received the organ they need.

Let's hope for a future where personalized, regenerated organs will eliminate the need for national transplant waiting lists. 

A recellularized biomimetic rat lung: As the lung sits in an incubator, it is pumped with culture medium, growth factors, and oxygen, which allows it to “breathe”. ottlab

[H/T: MIT Technology Review]

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