Bioengineered organs, still largely the stuff of sci-fi, may have just moved a step closer to reality with reports that scientists have successfully implanted lab-made lung tissue into living rats.
The fully functional tissue can exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide, the key role of the lungs.
The scientists--led by a team at Yale University--used a chemical treatment to remove all existing cells from adult rat lungs, keeping the structure of the airways and vascular system intact to later serve as a sort of "scaffold" for the growth of new lung cells.
They then cultured a combination of lung cells using a bioreactor designed to mimic the fetal lung environment and repopulated the "decellularized" rat lung with the engineered cells. When implanted into rats for short intervals of 45 to 120 minutes, the new tissue exchanged gas in a manner similar to that of natural lungs.
The scientists, who detail their work in a Thursday issue of the journal Science, acknowledge that it may be some time before scientists can generate fully functional lungs in vitro, but they nonetheless are touting their research as a promising development in the quest to regenerate lung tissue.
"This is an early step in the regeneration of entire lungs for larger animals and, eventually, for humans," said Laura Niklason, a Yale professor and vice chair of the Departments of Anesthesiology and Biomedical Engineering and lead author of the study, which was funded by Yale and the National Institutes of Health. (Decellularization has also been used in experiments to rebuild a human heart). … Read more