By Gloria Gutierrez |Staff Writer|
Organ engineering took another dramatic step forward when stem cell scientists created a human lung in a Texas university lab.
A much softer, less dense and pink lung was regenerated from a stripped down skeleton lung all done in a research lab at the University of Texas Medical Branch.
This medical innovation can potentially pave the way for many medical opportunities.
Tiffany Satoorian, a professor at CSUSB who teaches stem cell biology said, “Being able to engineer these organs and tissues in the laboratory would reduce the need for human donors.”
Not only can engineered lungs help those in need of a lung transplant, they can be used to enhance research on lung diseases.
According to an article on Medicalnewstoday.com, a stem cell researcher named Dr. Joan Nichols from UTMB stated, “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.”
Organ engineering is something that has been in the process for the past several years.
Researchers established that they have been working on lung engineering since 2010 on rat and pig lungs. It wasn’t until recently that they released their accomplishments on human lungs.
Other organs such as tracheas and livers are further along in organ manufacturing. Transplants of lab made tracheas have been a success in several patients around the nation.
This process began with a damaged lung that was stripped down to its scaffolding of collagen and elastin. Another lung’s cells were then coated on top of the scaffold lung.
“The scaffold technique provides a “casing,” if you will, in which lung cells would grow and populate,” said Satoorian.
UTMB’s Dr. Michael Riddle was the researcher responsible for growing the lung in a fish tank-like incubator full of cell nutrients.
In a four-week process, the scaffold lung in the incubator resulted in a regenerated lung.
Granting that this is a landmark accomplishment in the medical field, it is unknown if the lung can perform normal lung functions such as the exchange of gases.
It is estimated it will take about 10 to 12 years for lab-engineered lungs to be used as medical transplants.
An advancement like this in the medical field brings up some ethical questions.
A lung is an organ that gives the human body the “breath of life” and it can also give those in need a second chance at life.
“It is going to stir up issues with religious groups because science technology essentially is playing God,” said Andrew Reveles, a communications student. “On the other end of it, we are advancing medicine and potentially saving lives.”
Concerns may rise for those who are rooted deeply in religious beliefs.
Numerous amounts of incurable lung diseases kill thousands of people.
For example, cigarette smoking causes about 480,000 deaths in the United States, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.
Ultimately, researchers such as Nichols believes this “landmark in regenerative engineering” can reduce those numbers and potentially save lives.