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New Technique To Regenerate Severely Damaged Lungs Makes Transplant Possible

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About 80 percent of donor lungs are damaged, making it unviable for organ transplantation. A new technique showed that donor lungs can be rehabilitated and repaired outside the human body for at least 36 hours prior to the operation.  ( Columbia Engineering | YouTube )

Scientists develop a way to repair severely damaged lungs from donors to make it viable for organ transplantation, benefiting thousands of patients with end-stage lung disease.

Researchers at Columbia Engineering and Vanderbilt University demonstrated a new technique that could preserve the lungs for several days. This gave them more time to rehabilitate the organ and conduct other medical interventions.

Organ Recovery

About 80 percent of donated lungs are too damaged to even be considered for transplantation, according to senior author Dr. Matthew Bacchetta, a professor of thoracic and cardiac surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Results of the groundbreaking study can help address the critical shortage of donor organ not only among lung disease patients. The approach can also be applied to other damaged organs like heart, kidney, and liver.

"This paper represents a culmination of fundamental and translational studies of lung bioengineering that have converged into a system capable to recover severely damaged lungs," said co-author Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic, a professor of biomedical engineering and medical sciences at Columbia Engineering. "We now have the team and technology to bring this research to the patients, by making more donor lungs available for transplant."

The team expected that the technology will lead to an increase in the number of lung transplants.

Common Injury

The study published in the journal Nature Communications focused on donor lungs injured by gastric aspiration. It is a common injury caused by the introduction of material from the gut to the lungs.

The new approach allowed showed that damaged lungs can be maintained outside the human body for 36 hours. It also showed improved lung function and cellular regeneration, thus, meeting the required criteria for transplantation.

Bacchetta said they foresee expanding the 36-hour window to several days or even weeks to give more time for organ recovery and development of repair technologies.

Future studies can explore how well rehabilitated lungs function, the safety of the technique, and how the lungs respond to immunosuppressive drugs post-transplant.

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