Patients Waiting for Lung Transplants May Soon Breathe a Sigh of Relief

By Eliza Strickland | October 29, 2009 2:54 pm

lung-transplantEmphysema and cystic fibrosis patients who need new lungs are faced with a life-threatening problem: more than 80 percent of donated lungs can’t be used—they’re inflamed and barely functional [Scientific American]. Transplanted lungs also fail at a much higher rate than other transplanted organs, as they’re more likely to be rejected by the recipient’s body. But a new procedure that makes use of gene therapy may soon double or triple the supply of undamaged donated lungs, and may also improve their function once transplanted.

In both pre- and post-transplant lungs, the problem is inflammation caused by insufficient amounts of an immune molecule called IL-10. Donated lungs are immediately chilled on ice, which destroys any IL-10 that may remain in the lungs, allowing substantial damage to occur before the organ can be implanted. And a lack of the molecule after transplantation increases the likelihood that inflammation will damage the organ and induce rejection [Los Angeles Times].

To get around these problems, the researchers first built a domed chamber where pig lungs were kept at body temperature with a steady flow of oxygen and nutrients moving through them. That arrangement alone prevented substantial damage to the lungs. Next, in the gene therapy stage, the researchers used a harmless virus to bring a gene that produces IL-10 into the lung cells.

Lead researcher Shaf Keshavjee explains that the lungs that received the therapy had better blood flow and were more able to take in oxygen and expel carbon dioxide, the study showed. “It’s as if gene therapy turbocharges each individual cell to manufacture many more proteins in its own IL-10 factory,” Keshavjee said [Bloomberg]. The lungs also performed better and were better tolerated by the pigs who received the transplants, according to the study published in Science Translational Medicine.

The researchers also tried the first parts of the procedure on donated human lungs that were too damaged to transplant. The human lungs showed the same improvements in blood flow and respiration, suggesting that the therapy could repair lungs that would otherwise have been discarded, and could therefore increase the stock of available organs. Last year, 234 people in the U.S. died while waiting for a lung transplant…. Currently, more than 1,800 people in the U.S. are waiting for a lung [Bloomberg].

The human lungs weren’t transplanted into sick patients, but if Keshavjee’s experiments continue to go well human trials could begin in about a year. While questions about gene therapy remain–in some cases, the viral vectors used to transport genes have been found to cause serious side effects–the new approach has the potential to be a breath of fresh air.

Related Content:
80beats: Doctors Work Towards Womb Transplants–But Are They Ethical?
80beats: China May Stop Harvesting Organs From Executed Prisoners
80beats: Making Pig Stem Cells Raises the Possibility of Animal Organ Donors
DISCOVER: The Second Coming of Gene Therapy

Image: Science / AAAS

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Feature, Health & Medicine
  • Dr Doctor

    Even if there is side effects, the benefits defidently outweigh the negatives. I think if a person on their deathbed had a choice between death and possible complications, then they would take the risk.

  • jko423

    I agree. A patient with no options, facing hours to days of life left, would most likely pick complications than assured death if given the choice.

  • http://facebook Casey Fisher

    Well I’ll tell you what your assumption would be correct with me. But you must wonder why so many people who should recieve lung transplants decide that they dont want to deal with it in any way. well because 50% of lung transplant recipeints die anyways. Now if this could help increase the chances of survival I can guarantee that people like me who will one day innevitably be on that donor list will be more willing to choose life over death with lighter amount of complications. Also note that anybody under the age of 18 who recieves a transplant has about a .02% chance of living for 1 whole year after recieving the donation. Can you imagine how much hope parents could have if this increased the chances of survivability for Children. my hat goes off to this doctors discovery if it really does help with these things. I have Cystic Fibrosis I would like my chances to be better in the long run.

  • Roger Adamson

    Have the doctors considered using the gene therapy on people with other lung problems like asthma or emphysema? If the lung functions in these cases could be increased or cured it would be a very large medical breakthrough.

  • http://none Maura lawlor

    I have been suffering from bronchiactasis for a long time , I had pneumonia as a young girl, but in the last ten years I have been suffering from pseudomonas which is making my condition harder to live with and my lung function is pretty bad. This therapy would be great for me. Has anyone any update on treatment for pseudomonas besides tobramycin therapy month on and month off ? I don’t even get two weeks off tobramycin before I am feeling very unwell again. It is great to hear of these breakthroughs in treatments.

  • http://Discover Sheila Rivera

    I had MRSA, Pseudamonis and e coli. I went 22 days twice a day to our smalltown hospital for Mrsa. I walked out after 44 transfusions with the psueudamonis e coli and still had the MRSA. The D4r. Was going to put me on amoxcillian before I had the IV’s. Well I went to the hospital for the the IV’s. I saw it on the dresserr and thought what the hay I have nothing to loose and I will bet the bugs I have probably haven’t seen amoxcillin in 30 years. Amox forms a shell around the sick cell so it can’t reproduce. Read up on it, is is a very interesting antibiotic. Fast forward two weeks and I am healed by the amoxcillian. My doctors couldn’t believe it, I couldn’t believe, the health department couldn’t believe. I have COPD from all this and when I feel an infection coming on in my chest (it gets tight and I can do nothing but sit in one place), my Doc gives me and RX for 500 mg, x2 a day x 14 says or. or augmentin 825 mg mg 2x a day x 14 days. They are both equally good med. Augmentin is strong than amox hope this helps. I was literally at deaths door.

  • Stephanie Green

    I rec’d my lung trnsplant in june 2006 and the only complication I had was scar tissue in the bronchial tube which was repaired with a stent. I thank God everyday for the donor, his family for their decision to donate his lung and the wonderful doctors at UVA . It was worth the risk as I have 4 beautiful grandchildren and 5th due any day. I never would have seen them without it.


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