Thursday, September 16, 2010

Growing lungs in the lab

Web Produced by: Amanda Nembhard

Liesbeth Stoeffler barely survived the six false alarms with her failing lungs before doctors found healthy lungs for her transplant.

What if instead of waiting lists, scientists could grow new lungs in the lab?
"Ultimately it would be great if we were able to completely bioengineer a lung for transplants," says Andrew Price of 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.

Scientists took a mouse lung -- stripped away all of the cells -- then injected special adult stem cells into the framework. They're called induced pluripotent stem cells. They can be taken from anybody -- usually from the skin -- and re-programmed.

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."

Every year, 400-thousand people in the U.S. die of lung diseases. Only one-thousand of the nearly four-thousand patients on the waiting list receive a lung transplant.

Science getting closer to growing the organs needed to fill the donation demand. Scientists say while growing fully-formed human lungs is 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.

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.

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.

Nick Hanson, Media Relations
University of Minnesota
Minneapolis, MN
(612) 624-2449

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