The results might eventually lead to replacement lungs for patients.

In a first for medical science, rats were able to breathe and oxygenate their blood using lungs that had been grown in the lab. This a major step toward being able to grow replacement organs.


Led by biomedical engineer Laura Niklason, a team at Yale constructed the tiny lungs for rats using a relatively new process called “decellularization.” By rinsing organs in detergent, all the cellular material is washed away, leaving behind a fibrous, white structure that can be used as a scaffold to build organs out of fetal cells. The researchers used decellularized lung scaffolds, and grew new lungs with “a mixture” of fetal rat cells which formed tissues and blood vessels while the scaffolds were inside a bioreactor. The bioreactor – much like the organism-growing “vats” from many science fiction stories – was filled with circulating fluid, to emulate a fetal environment. And after 8 days, the scientists had fully-functioning lungs that could inflate and fill with blood just like naturally-grown lungs.

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