The regeneration of damaged pig lungs using an external organ support system is reported in Nature Communications this week. The preliminary findings suggest that it may be possible to recover damaged lungs for use in organ transplantation.
Gastric aspiration - the entry of gastric material into the respiratory tract - is a common injury that renders lungs unsuitable for transplantation. With a global shortage of organs for transplantation, the ability to regenerate damaged lungs could potentially increase the pool of suitable organs.
Matthew Bacchetta and colleagues investigated the possibility of regenerating severely damaged lungs to meet transplantation criteria. The authors reproduced gastric aspiration injury in eight pigs and maintained the damaged lungs in an external support system by connecting them to the circulatory system of the recipient animal. Using this cross-circulatory platform, they were able to maintain the donor lungs outside of the animal’s body for up to 36 hours; allowing time for a series of therapeutic interventions to take place. The system resulted in the regeneration of the injured lungs and improvement of their function. The regenerated lungs met all the criteria for transplantation.
Further studies will be needed to confirm the functional capacity of the lungs following transplantation and the safety of the method. Research will also be required to assess the effects of immunosuppression (necessary for organ transplantation in humans) on lung recovery.