Researchers at the University of Texas have successfully managed to grow a set of human lungs inside their lab, which they hope will eventually lead to a breakthrough for organ transplant recipients, CNN reported on Friday.
The procedure, developed by a team at the university’s medical branch in Galveston, involved using a pair of damaged lungs already unsuitable for transplant. The first lung was stripped of its cells and served as what they called a “scaffold.”
“That’s why it’s so white and pretty and there’s no blood in it, it’s very pretty looking,” lead researcher Joan Nichols told KTRK-TV. “And then we added back cells from another lung that couldn’t be used for transplant but still had some viable cells in it.”
Though the team actually grew a pair of lungs during an experiment last year, Nichols told KTRK her group wanted to “prove itself” in its latest effort. One colleague, Michael Riddle, was able to accelerate the process through some ingenuity of his own.
“He’s the one who went home and actually built using — I’m not kidding — a fish tank that he went and bought from a pet store, is what he built the first piece of equipment,” Nichols explained. “Took us about four months to take the cells from the lung to where all you have is a bio-scaffold, and we took that process down to about three days.”
However, Nichols and her team believe it will take between 5 and 10 years to produce lungs suitable for human use. They hope to begin experimenting on transplanting their lab-grown lungs into animals in 2014.
Watch CNN’s report, aired on Friday, below.