Growing Lungs in the Lab, Medicine's Next Big Thing?

FRESNO, Calif.

Doctors say there just aren't enough organs to go around, so what if they could grow replacement lungs to match each patient? Building new lungs in the lab could be medicine's next big thing.

Two active women were both robbed of their right to breathe.

"At my worst point, I was ready to lay down and die," Pam Taylor, suffers from emphysema, told Ivanhoe.

"I was on oxygen 24/7," Liesbeth Stoeffler, had a lung transplant, recalled.

Stoeffler barely survived the six false alarms before doctors found healthy lungs for her transplant.

"Number seven was the lucky number," Stoeffler said.

What if instead of waiting lists, scientists could grow new lungs in the lab?

"Ultimately it would be great if we were able to completely bioengineer a lung for transplants," Andrew Price, assistant scientist at the University of Minnesota said.

Scientists took the first step in doing just that. Out of stem cells, they created tiny mouse lungs that breathe in and out.

"It was really cool, I was really surprised that they stayed in tact enough to hold air," Price said.

Scientists took a mouse lung, stripped away all of the cells, and then injected special adult stem cells into the framework. They're called induced pluripotent stem cells. They can be taken from anybody, usually from the skin, and can be re-programmed.

"They can become any cell type in the body if properly directed to do so," Angela Panoskaltsis-Mortari, Ph.D., lead scientist at the University of Minnesota, explained.

The goal is one day to use lungs of a deceased person, add cells from the skin of a transplant patient, and grow designer lungs.

"Because you'd be using stem cells from the patient in rebuilding the organ, this organ would now not be recognized as foreign by the patient's immune system, and therefore, not rejected," Dr. Panoskaltsis-Mortari said.

Every year, 400,000 people in the United States die of lung diseases. Only 1,000 of the nearly 4,000 patients on the waiting list receive a lung transplant. Science getting closer to growing the organs needed to fill the donation demand.

Scientists say while growing fully-formed human lungs is many years away, creating partial lungs, or one lobe, could happen sooner. A person doesn't need all of their lung tissue to survive. Two years ago, University of Minnesota scientists used the same technique to create a beating mouse heart.

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