THURSDAY, June 24 (HealthDay News) -- Scientists have succeeded in fashioning a new, healthy lung out of the structural remains of an old one in rats.
The researchers, reporting in the June 25 issue of Science, hope one day to replicate the feat in humans, giving hope to the millions of people with cystic fibrosis, emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and perhaps even lung cancer.
But that could take as long as 20 or 25 years to accomplish, warned study author Thomas Petersen, a postdoctoral associate at Yale University.
"What we're talking about is still science fiction, although we're a lot closer now," added Dr. Neil Schachter, a professor of pulmonary medicine at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City.
Petersen and his colleagues started with a normal rat lung, then treated it chemically to remove all the cells, a process known as decellularization. This left them with just the lung scaffolding, including the all-important airways and blood network.
"We retained the overall structure of the lung but it was completely free of all cells, as well as components that would be detected by the body as foreign, meaning that the scaffold would not be rejected were you to do a transplant," Petersen explained.
This was the most challenging part of the experiment. "The 3-D structure of a lung is quite complex and it's not something that you can easily make," Petersen explained.
The team then seeded the scaffold with blood vessel cells and airway cells, and then grew the lungs in a bioreactor for about a week. During the culture period, the lungs were made to "breathe" mechanically.
With the newly engineered lung tissue, the group was able to perform four transplants of a left lung back into rats.
"The transplants were maintained for up to two hours and they were functioning in terms of pulling in oxygen and gettin
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