The Grapevine

Pigs Help Scientists Develop New Technique For Safe Lung Transplant

To date, hundreds of people are on the waiting list to receive new lungs in the U.S. However, doctors have been facing challenges to address the growing demand for transplants due to the sensitive condition of the organs. 

Four out of five requested lungs are commonly rejected prior to surgery. The organ is vulnerable to damage and can only last outside a donor's body for only 24 hours, Popular Science reported Tuesday.

But scientists just found a potential approach to prolong the amount of time the organ can stay outside the body. A new study, published in the journal Nature Communications, suggests it could help increase the number of available lungs and successful transplants in the future, and pigs served a key role in the discovery. 

The researchers worked with pigs to demonstrate the technique that allowed them to extend the life of lungs, even those damaged by stomach acids. The team was also able to repair the organ before transplant, which was previously difficult for all doctors. 

“Current systems, they measure time of support in hours,” Matthew Bacchetta, study co-lead author and a surgeon and professor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said. “We’ve managed to change that to days.”

The technique involved hooking the lungs up to the recipient pig. Researchers used a tube that drew blood from the pig through the donor lungs then back into the animal’s body. 

It simply allowed the same fresh blood to flow between the same arteries and veins of the recipient and the lungs. The connection also helped cells to regenerate properly in the lungs. 

Researchers said they could replicate the process in humans. Bacchetta also said the technique may also be applied to other kinds of organs.  

Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic, study co-lead author and a biomedical engineer at the Columbia University, said their study may help improve the current one-in-five rate of successful lung transplants to two- or three-in-five in the future.

The research team plans to continue their study to see how the transplanted lungs will respond after the procedure and to confirm the technique’s safety.