Scientists have successfully grown lungs in a laboratory and transplanted them into pigs.
The lungs were engineered by Joan Nichols and Joaquin Cortiella from the University of Texas Medical Branch. In 2014, the pair became the first scientists to successfully grow lungs in a lab.
Now, a paper in Science Translation Medicine reveals they can now take those lungs and transplant them into living animals without medical complications.
Nichols, Cortiella, and their colleagues began by stripping all the cells from the lungs of donor animals using a mixture of sugar in detergent. The scientists then took the leftover protein skeleton of the donated lungs and repopulated each one with blood vessels and lung tissue from the body of the pig they would be transplanted into.
The scientists then placed the lung skeleton in a tank filled with nutrients to encourage growth. The lungs stayed in the tanks for 30 days before they were transplanted inside the pigs.
When the lungs were finally put inside the animals, their bodies did not reject them. Instead, they established a strong network of blood and nutrients to help the lung survive. After about 60 days, the lungs had 100 percent oxygen saturation - meaning every red blood cell carried oxygen to the pig’s organs.
The animals lived for several weeks without breathing problems. In the past, lab-grown lungs implanted in rodents would fail within hours.
The scientists say in 5 to 10 years, they can grow lungs to translate into humans who need them.
"It has taken a lot of heart and 15 years of research to get us this far. Our team has done something incredible with a ridiculously small budget and an amazingly dedicated group of people," said Nichols and Cortiella.