Only one quarter of the people waiting for a lung transplant get the organ they need to survive. Hundreds more die waiting. Doctors say there just aren't enough organs to go around. So, what if they could grow replacement lungs to match each patient?
Building new lungs in the lab could be medicine's next big thing.
Two active women were both robbed of their right to breathe.
Pam Taylor, who suffers from emphysema, and Liesbeth Stoeffler, who had a lung transplant, know the pains of waiting for a lung transplant.
"At my worst point, I was ready to lay down and die,” said Pam Taylor.
Liesbeth Stoeffler said, "I was on oxygen 24/7."
Liesbeth Stoeffler barely survived the six false alarms before doctors found healthy lungs for her transplant.
"Number seven was the lucky number,” said Stoeffler.
What if the pain of waiting on a transplant was no longer a problem? What if instead of waiting lists, scientists could grow new lungs in the lab?
"UIltimately it would be great if we were able to completely bioengineer a lung for transplants," said Andrew Price, an assistant scientist at the University of Minnesota.
University of Minnesota scientists took the first step in doing just that.
Out of stem cells, they created tiny mouse lungs that breathe in and out.
"It was really cool,” said Price. “I was really surprised that they stayed in tact enough to
Scientists took a mouse lung, stripped away all of the cells, then injected
special adult stem cells into the framework. They are called “induced pluripotent stem cells,” and they can be taken from anybody, usually from the skin, and re-programmed.
Dr. Angela Panoskaltsis-Mortari, Lead Scientist at the University of Minnesota explained, "they can become any cell type in the body if properly directed to do so."
The goal: one day use lungs of a deceased person, add cells from the skin of a transplant patient, and grow designer lungs.
"Because you'd be using stem cells from the patient in rebuilding the organ, this organ would now not be recognized as foreign by the patient's immune system, and therefore, not be rejected,” explained Dr. Pansoskaltsis_Mortari
Every year, 400,000 people in the US die of lung diseases. Only 1,000 of the nearly 400,000 patients on the waiting list receive a lung transplant.
Science is getting closer to growing the organs needed to fill the donation demand.
Scientists say while growing fully-formed human lungs are many years away, creating partial lungs, or one lobe, could happen sooner.
A person doesn't need all of their lung tissue to survive. Two years ago, University of
Minnesota scientists used the same technique to create a beating mouse heart.
TOPIC: GROWING LUNGS IN THE LAB: MEDICINE'S NEXT BIG THING?
BACKGROUND: Lung transplantation is surgery to replace one or both diseased
lungs with a healthy lung or lungs from a donor. One of the major challenges
with lung transplantation is the lack of donors. There are about 4,000 people
on the waiting list, yet only 1,000 of those patients will receive lungs for
transplant. Rejection is another challenge when it comes to lung transplants.
"There's no attempt made, for the most part, to match the donor lung to the
recipient because there are so few donor organs available, so it's a huge
problem," Angela Panoskaltsis-Mortari, Ph.D., a scientist at the University of
Minnesota, told Ivanhoe.
GROWING NEW LUNGS: Scientists used a process called whole organ
decellularization to remove cells from the lungs of dead adult mice and implant
healthy stem cells derived from unborn mice into the decellularized matrix --
the natural framework of the lungs. After a week in an incubator, the infused
cells attached themselves to the matrix while breathing with the aid of a
ventilator. "Even after prolonged ventilation, two to three weeks, the matrix
maintained its entire geometry and was in tact. We fully expected that after
all this we'd just have an empty balloon, but that's not what happened.
Everything was maintained, exactly as it would be in a normal lung,"
Panoskaltsis-Mortari told Ivanhoe.
Scientists hope they will eventually be able to use this process to "grow" new
lungs for patients in the lab. One possibility may involve removing lungs from
a deceased person, decellularizing them, seeding the remaining framework with
patient-derived stem cells to reproduce and develop into lung cells, and then
transplanting the new lungs into people with diseased lungs to give them a new
life. "I believe that even if they don't make entire lungs, I believe that they
will be able to make portions of lungs or at least enough in order to help the
patient get by," Panoskaltsis-Mortari told Ivanhoe.
Lung transplantation is usually the only option for patients with irreversible
structural lung damage caused by cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary
diseases such as emphysema, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, primary pulmonary
arterial hypertension and cystic fibrosis.
FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT:
Nick Hanson, Media Relations
University of Minnesota