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Making lung transplants more successful may ultimately come down to pigs.
Columbia and Vanderbilt researchers conducted a study recently that found connecting human lungs to live pigs, under anesthesia, could make it easier for doctors to transplant the organs.
A human lung can be sustained outside of the body for about six hours, Live Scientist explained in a report. After operators extract the donor lung, they must prepare it for transportation to its recipient, who — depending on the circumstances — could be hours away.
The rate of a donated one being acceptable for transplant currently hovers around just 20 percent, much lower than the rate of other organs, according to a report in Medium OneZero.
In the July 13 study, the researchers, however, revived rejected lungs in 24 hours by connecting them to living pigs. They placed each lung inside a plastic box hooked up to a ventilator before connecting them with the pig’s circulatory system. Two tubes connected major blood vessels in the lungs to the pig’s neck, allowing fresh blood to flow through the animals.
“This approach is very novel and certainly shows promise,” said James Fildes, a transplantation scientist at the University Hospital of South Manchester in the U.K., according to OneZero. “A major logistical challenge of lung transplantation is keeping the preservation time as short as possible, as longer times result in poor function following transplant.”
There are still some challenges with the method. For example, scientists have not yet clearly determined whether a lung recipient would be able to support a donor, as well as the healthy pigs.
The development comes as coronavirus cases are spiking across the United States. The virus is notorious for attacking the lungs and respiratory system of the infected person.
The U.S. just topped 4 million COVID-19 cases,
“We don’t know how many of the … Americans who have been infected with COVID-19 will need an organ transplantation a few years from now,” Abbas Ardehali, surgical director of the UCLA Heart and Lung Transplant Program, told OneZero. “There could potentially be a tsunami of need for lung transplantation in the years to come.”
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