Scientists who work at the University of Texas’ Medical Branch state that they have found how to grow human lungs by using fish tanks. This is a discovery that could save the lives of hundreds of people who are in need of lung transplants. Currently over 1,500 patients are on the transplant waiting list in hopes of getting a set of new lungs.
The discovery happened in 2013 when one of the team members was able for the very first time to create the lungs in a laboratory in a fish tank. It is a very exciting step advancing regenerative medicine but it is an advance that most likely will not help anyone in need for a number of years. The fish tank was changed to be similar to a virtual womb. Such happenings which are occurring in this field are very exciting, explained Dr. Joan Nichols, who was one of the main authors of the research study. She added that it almost seemed like some sort of science fiction.
Nichols said that there really was no kind of equipment created to do such a thing so the fish tank was the next thing that was found in a lung shape. They had to fill up the tank with a type of nutritional liquid, which acted similar to the amniotic fluid inside a womb. It was very cool. The scientists created these lungs by actually recycling old lungs that had been too damaged to be used for any type of transplant. The left over cells were removed and the scientists were left with a sort of lung skeleton. Next they used cells from another damaged old lung and attached them to the first lung. The growing process appeared to start similarly as the way a baby grows inside the womb. It is believed that a brand new pair of lungs could be ready in less than six weeks.
There are many lungs that have to be thrown away each year because they are considered unfit for use in any transplants, explained Nichols. This would be one way to be able to use the lungs so they might have benefit for people in need.
If the lungs do happen to work, and this is a major if, they will definitely help those on the waiting list, as was mentioned above. Lungs are actually just one of numerous body parts that are being created in the lab. Such parts like livers and tracheas are much farther along. The team believes that testing the created lungs could start on animals in less than five years. However for humans, it will probably be longer to 15 years. Dr. Nichols declared that her students would be doing the lung work after she is old and retired.
The doctor stated that when the fish tank lungs were examined, they looked very much like the real thing, only softer, pinker and not as dense, but way before investigators ever tried any experiments on human beings, they would work on pigs or animals like that. Other physicians are already transplanting synthetic tracheas into patients. The very first surgery was performed back in 2011, and there have been at least six more since then.
Dr. Stephen Badylak, who is the director of the McGowan Institute at the University of Pittsburgh, exclaimed that by creating whole organ manufacturing, it will help aid in a solution to the shortage of organ donors. Thanks to the scientists who work at the University of Texas’ Medical Branch and what they are doing with human lungs and fish tanks, maybe the shortage is on the wane.
By Kimberly Ruble