CNN is reporting that researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas have grown a human lung in the laboratory. This points the way to a new frontier in health care, regenerative medicine.
“The researchers in Galveston, Texas, started with lungs from two children who’d died from trauma, most likely a car accident, Nichols said. Their lungs were too damaged to be used for transplantation, but they did have some healthy tissue.
“They took one of the lungs and stripped away nearly everything, leaving a scaffolding of collagen and elastin.
“The scientists then took cells from the other lung and put them on the scaffolding. They immersed the structure in a large chamber filled with a liquid ‘resembling Kool-Aid,’ Nichols said, which provided nutrients for the cells to grow. After about four weeks, an engineered human lung emerged.”
Of course between the need to do animal studies and refining the process, the first transplant into a human of a lab grown lung is some years away. Still, a future in which transplant patients can have lungs, of any other organ for that matter, torn down and custom built to fit them is within sight. About the middle to late next decade, surgeons will be able to begin transplanting lab grown lungs.
In such a world, people with conditions that require transplants will no longer have to wait anxiously for a compatible organ. Any organ will do, so long as it can be retrofitted for the particular patient. As an added bonus, transplant patients will be spared the lifelong course of anti-rejection drugs necessary when receiving a transplanted organ.
In living memory, heart transplants were considered novel, a futuristic procedure that, in the fullness of time, brings life to people who might otherwise have died. If one lives long enough, and thanks to advances like a lab grown lung more people will live long, this process from cutting edge to routine becomes common. Such are the marvels of a scientific age.