Scientists successfully grow first lab-grown human lungs

GALVESTON, Texas (CNN/KTRK) — For the first time, scientists in Texas have successfully grown human lungs in a lab.

If you listen closely, you can hear the air moving in and out of the working lungs that University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston scientists grew in a lab.

Growing organs may seem like science fiction, but it’s the goal of medical researchers because so many people need organ transplants. Many die waiting for one.

“The most exciting part is to shorten the time people have to wait for an organ transplant,” said Dr. Joaquin Cortiella, on the UTMB Regenerative Medicine team.

It all started with a damaged lung.

“We removed all the cells all the material in it, and just left the skeleton — or the scaffold – behind. The pieces of the lungs. There are no cells,” said Dr. Joan Nichols, the UTMB research team’s leader. “That’s why it’s so white and pretty and no blood in it; it’s very pretty-looking. And then we added back cells from another lung that couldn’t be used for transplant but still had some viable cells in it.”

But it took months, until a UTMB medical student named Michael Riddle built a piece of equipment that sped up the process.

“He’s the one that actually went home and actually built — I’m not kidding — using a fish tank he went and bought from a pet store, is what he built the first piece of equipment,” said Nichols.

“Took about four months to take the cells from the lung to where all you have is a bioscaffold, and we took that process down to about three days,” said Dr. Michael Riddle, Jr., who built the lung machine.

UTMB scientists actually grew the first human lungs last year, keeping the developments under wraps.

“But it’s taken us a year to prove to ourselves that we actually did a good job with it,” said Nichols. “And so you don’t run out immediately and tell the world ‘We have something wonderful’ until we proved it to ourselves that we really did something pretty amazing.”

Scientists hope to transplant the first set of lab-grown lungs in animals this year or next.

It’s not clear when they could be ready to save humans.

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