Human Lungs Grown In The Lab
February 17, 2014

First-Ever Lab-Grown Lungs

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

Medical researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch have announced the development of the first-ever human lungs grown in a laboratory.

While the lungs may not be ready for transplant in humans for a decade or more, the advancement could eventually resolve the shortages being faced by many patients in need of a new lung.

“The most exciting part is to shorten the time people have to wait for an organ transplant,” said Dr. Joaquin Cortiella, who directs the tissue engineering lab at UTMB.

The UTMB team said they were able to grown the organs using lung scaffolding taken from donated lungs.

“We removed all the cells, all the material in it, and just left the skeleton of the lung, or the scaffold, behind,” said team leader Dr. Joan Nichols, a research director at UTMB.

The collagen and elastin “skeleton” was then covered in cells taken from another donated lung. The engineered structure was then immersed in a large container filled with a “Kool-Aid”-like liquid that provided nutrients for the cells to develop, according to Nichols. The manufactured human lung eventually grew after four months.

The UTMB team repeated the process creating another engineered lung from two more donated lungs. The engineered lungs resembled natural lungs, Nichols said, expect they were pinker, softer and less compacted.

Nichols told CNN she thinks it will be around 12 years or so until the UTMB team will be ready to try using these lungs for transplants.

"My students will be doing the work when I'm old and retired and can't hold a pipette anymore," she said.

The engineered lungs are expected to first be transplanted into pigs, most likely within the next two years.

“It's taken us a year to prove to ourselves that we actually did a good job with it,” Nichols told the Daily Mail.

“You don't run out immediately and tell the world you have something wonderful until you've proved it to ourselves that we really did something amazing,” she added.

Doctors have already begun performing transplants with tracheas grown in the laboratory, with the first such operation performed in 2011. Six more have been done since. While two of the patients have subsequently died, their deaths were unrelated to the tracheas.

In November, scientists from the University of Granada in Spain announced a similar development – they were able to grow artificial skin from umbilical cord stem cells. The researchers said their novel technique is an improvement on conventional methods that can take weeks to generate artificial skin.

“Creating this new type of skin using stem cells, which can be stored in tissue banks, means that it can be used instantly when injuries are caused, and which would bring the application of artificial skin forward many weeks,” said study author Antonio Campos, professor of Histology at the University of Granada.

The development builds on previous work by the same team, which was heralded at the World Congress on Tissue Engineering held last year in Seoul, South Korea.