UTMB Galveston scientists grow human lungs in lab

For the first time, scientists from The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston have grown human lungs in a lab.

Joan Nichols, who leads the UTMB team, said the researchers started by removing all the cells from a damaged lung, leaving only the skeleton or the scaffold of the lung behind. They then added back cells from another lung that couldn't be used for transplant but still had some viable cells in it.

“If we can make a good lung for people, we can also make a good model for injury,” Nichols said in a previous statement. “We can create a fibrotic lung, or an emphysematous lung, and evaluate what’s happening with those, what the cells are doing, how well stem cell or other therapy works. We can see what happens in pneumonia, or what happens when you’ve got a hemorrhagic fever, or tuberculosis, or hantavirus — all the agents that target the lung and cause damage in the lung.”

With thousands of individuals on waiting lists for lung transplants and many who may die without receiving one, the team's success offers hope of shortening the time people have to wait for an organ transplant. 

The researchers hope to transplant the first set of lab-grown lungs in animals this year or next, and they estimate between 5 and 10 years or longer before the lungs may be ready to be used in humans.

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