Health

How to Build a Working Rat Lung in a Lab

80beatsBy Eliza StricklandJun 25, 2010 5:32 PM
rat-lung.jpg

Newsletter

Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news
 

Step 1: Take a rat lung. Step 2: Strip away all of its living cells, leaving only a fibrous "scaffold" of connective tissue. Step 3: Bathe the scaffold in lung cells taken from newborn rats, and put the whole thing in a bioreactor to let the cells multiply and spread. Step 4: A few days later, when the reconstructed lung is again filled with blood vessels and alveoli, transplant the organ into a living rat. Step 5: Watch in awe as the lung begins to function. That's the short version of the experiment Yale University researchers just published in Science. The study was a result of a change in direction for lead researcher Laura Niklason:

Niklason spent several years trying to create a synthetic lung scaffold, but in the end concluded it was too difficult. "I decided I couldn't do it, and probably nobody else could either," she said. [National Geographic]

The proof-of-concept study showed that a lung reconstructed on a natural scaffold could serve its intended purpose in vivo at least temporarily, but the medical applications of this technology are far off. Theoretically, a fibrous collegen scaffold could be taken from a dead donor and put into a living patient without triggering an immune response, but living cells are another matter. To prevent the patient from rejecting the new lung, researchers will have to find a better source for the cells that would coat the scaffold. Scientists could perhaps take healthy cells from a patient's lungs, or they could take other cells from the patient and coax them back into a stem cell-like state, allowing them to grow into all the necessary forms of lung tissue.

"I clearly don't think we've solved the whole problem, but I sort of feel like we're laying train tracks into the mountains," Niklason said. "We haven't gotten to the other side of the mountain range yet, but when we do, I hope there's a big bus of stem cells waiting for us." [Los Angeles Times]

For a more thorough explanation of this work and its potential implications for human medicine, check out Ed Yong's post

at Not Exactly Rocket Science. Related Content: Not Exactly Rocket Science: Lungs Rebuilt in Lab and Transplanted Into Rats

80beats: Can Sight Be Restored With Stem Cells Grown on Contact Lenses?

80beats: Brain Reconstruction: Stem-Cell Scaffolding Can Repair Stroke Damage

80beats: Doctors Use a Patient’s Own Stem Cells to Build Her a New Windpipe

80beats: Researchers Could Grow Replacement Tissue to Patch Broken Hearts

Image: Science / Thomas Petersen, et al.

1 free article left
Want More? Get unlimited access for as low as $1.99/month

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

1 free articleSubscribe
Magazine Examples
Want more?

Keep reading for as low as $1.99!

Subscribe

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

More From Discover
Recommendations From Our Store
Shop Now
Stay Curious
Join
Our List

Sign up for our weekly science updates.

 
Subscribe
To The Magazine

Save up to 70% off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine.

Copyright © 2021 Kalmbach Media Co.