(OneZero) — Researchers were able to keep human lungs alive (and viable for transplant) by hooking them up to pigs.
Donated lungs have a short shelf life. After they’re removed from a donor, it’s a race against the clock to get them to a lucky recipient. The delicate, spongy organs are viable for only six to eight…
Researchers at Columbia and Vanderbilt sought to extend that window of viability and buy enough time to reverse the damage using live pigs. By hooking up lungs that had been rejected for transplant to the pigs, they were able to revive the lungs in 24 hours. The new technique could one day expand the number of donor lungs available for transplant, potentially saving more lives. The scientists published their resultsJuly 13 in the journal Nature Medicine.
The researchers acquired six donor lungs — five pairs plus a single one—that had been deemed unsuitable for transplant. Placing each lung into a clear plastic box, they connected the box to a ventilator, a machine that aids in breathing. Next, they joined the lungs with the circulatory system of a live pig, which was put under anesthesia. Two tubes connected the major blood vessels in the lungs to the either side of the pig’s neck, allowing the pig’s blood to flow through the lungs and back to the pig. After being connected to the pigs for 24 hours, the damaged lungs began to recover.
Before the procedure, the single lung was so swollen and fluid-filled that it was declined by multiple transplant centers and eventually offered for research. It had been outside of the body for 22 hours and didn’t improve after five hours with the existing lung-in-a-box method. But after being hooked up to the pig, it met transplant criteria. — Emily Mullin/@ozm