Scientists Grow First Functioning Human Lungs

By Carl Engelking | February 17, 2014 3:09 pm
Researchers in Texas grew  adult lungs using "scaffolding" from another set of lungs. Credit: University of Texas Medical Branch.

Researchers in Texas grew adult lungs (right) starting with “scaffolding” (left) that’s left behind from a set of damaged lungs. Credit: University of Texas Medical Branch.

Lungs are a notoriously delicate organ. That makes useable donor lungs hard to come by—in 2010, just 1,800 lung transplants took place in the United States. However, researchers are getting closer to addressing the shortage by growing lungs, for the first time, in the lab. Although these lungs haven’t been actually transplanted, the technology could someday help shorten the list of people waiting for donors.

Scientists at the University of Texas used damaged lungs from two children who died in car accidents. In a cutting-edge kind of tissue engineering, they stripped away all the cells from the lungs and left behind the “scaffolding,” the intricate web of proteins that holds cells in place. Researchers then coated this scaffold with viable lung cells from a second pair of lungs, not suitable for transplant. Finally, they placed the lungs in a nutrient bath for four weeks to allow the cells to grow and fully re-create lung tissue. The new lungs look like the real thing, just softer and less dense. 

Speeding Up the Process

In the past, washing a donor organ of its cells could take up to four months to accomplish, but the latest study introduced a device that sped that process up to three days. The resulting lungs are eggshell white, because of the lack of blood flowing in the new organ.

The team first grew the lungs in a lab last year, but waited to tell the world what they accomplished. Lead researcher Joan Nichols told KTRK-TV in Houston:

“It’s taken us a year to prove to ourselves that we actually did a good job with it. You don’t run out immediately and tell the world you have something wonderful until you’ve proved it to ourselves that we really did something amazing,”

When will these lungs save the first human life? Don’t hold your breath. Although the team was successful, researchers say it will take at least 10 years before they are ready for people in need of a transplant. However, Nichols said they plan to test lab-grown lungs in pigs within the next year or so.

Image credit: Kozorez Vladislav/Shutterstock


CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, top posts
  • pawil

    Wondrous! Thank you brilliant people!

  • Jeannie E. Hess

    Why test on pigs? Stop testing on animals and instead test on rapists, pedophiles, child abusers, etc. You’ll get your necessary data re human response to these lab-grown lungs far quicker.

    • Mike Rocinante

      Great idea Ms Mengele.

    • Linda Tringo

      I am not fond of prisoners. But many are not violent offenders and some are even innocent. All, however are human.
      Test those willing to accept it!
      And in the future, Jeannie, try to sound a little more intelligent and less crazy, OK?

      • kandy830

        My Uncle Gabriel got a stunning blue Dodge Charger SRT8 from
        only workin part time on a home pc… hop over to here F­i­s­c­a­l­M­a­z­e­.­ℂ­o­m

    • Maica-ta


    • Seethe

      Especially on people who were wrongly convicted, and men who were falsely accused by women.

  • ch manohar

    you all did a great job,this world will be very thankful to you,all the best for the future

  • Linda Tringo

    Don’t test on prisoners. Believe it or not, some of them are also humans. Test on those who have a lung illness and are willing to take the chance rather than die.

  • doug4447

    Throw a pair in the oven for me please, I’ll be needing some in a few years. And if you would be so kind, maybe toss me in a new liver while you’re at it.

  • disqus_5jWnlA6UHV

    Awesome !! great job.. one day I may need new lungs at the rate mine are going hopefully this would be a option for me if I’m going to die from it I would take the chance of it. it will kill me or cure me I’m dieing anyways why not take that chance if it worked it would work for others if not maybe they can figure out why not an one day be successful and save many lives

  • Bronwen Edwards

    Once again the science of regenerative medicine takes a large leap, even though once again it will take some time for human transplants to take place. In the article it mentions that the new lungs look exactly the same, except that they are softer and less dense. Does anybody think that this change in density will perhaps effect lung capacity? Since density is indirectly proportional to volume, I’m sure it must have some sort of impact on the functioning of the lungs. On a side note, everyone saying that they shouldn’t use pigs to test these lungs on – why is it okay for thousands upon thousands of mice to be experimented with left, right and center, but when it comes to pigs it’s not okay? I don’t condone animal abuse for scientific purposes, however, it is the same concept as using a mouse, yet then no one blinks an eyelash. The new technology of 3D printing can is also being trialed for printing human organs – this could be just as large a discovery.

    • Andrew

      Emphysematous lungs are also less dense and I don’t think anyone wants that.


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