By Kayla Santos
To date, there are approximately 1,600 people on waiting lists for lung transplants; this number has continued to grow over time. Due to a low number of donors, most of those on waiting lists never receive the vital organs they need. A team of scientists at the University of Texas Medical Branch has been successful in “growing” a lung in only three days. The procedure involved removing cells from a damaged lung, through a process called decellularization. Once the cells are removed, the scaffold of the damaged lung is covered in viable cells from a different lung. The cells take over the damaged lung’s scaffold and begin the process of building a lung. The process was accelerated with the use of makeshift equipment built by medical student, Michael Riddle. Prior to the invention of this equipment, the process would take about four months.
These technologies and techniques are continuously being perfected. According to scientists, it could still take anywhere between five to ten years before lab-grown lungs can be used for transplants. Current goals include the successful transplanting of lab-grown lungs into animals within the next year or two. Scientists have, however, been successful at growing other vital organs such as hearts, livers and tracheas; but lungs have proven to be much more difficult. Lungs are constantly exposed to the outside environment and because of this they easily deteriorate. Therefore, lungs have one of the highest rejection rates after five years of then being transplanted.
In the future, technologies such as these will be crucial to the future of successful organ transplant to those in need.