Dec 4, 2013 8:04 AM by John Overall
Tucson - Every day, an estimated 79 people in the United States receive organ transplants.
But an average of 18 people die waiting for transplants because of a shortage of viable organs. Many donor organs are routinely discarded because they are considered unsuitable for transplant.
Imagine if doctors could take a damaged lung from a deceased patient, clean it up and refurbish it for someone in need of a transplant. That's not only possible, it's close to becoming reality.
Dr. Zain Khalpey, a cardiothoracic surgeon at the University of Arizona Medical Center is working hard to revolutionize organ transplant procedures.
Dr. Khalpey says many donated lungs are considered medical waste and they're just tossed out. But he says many of those organs can be salvaged.
It's all thanks to a special bio-reactor he, and his former colleagues at Harvard University, developed.
"This is the first time in the world anybody has been able to use a clinical grade machine to take away cells to then re-purpose a human lung with your own stem cells to create a new lung."
Here's how it works: The donor organ is stripped of all cells and DNA, leaving just the matrix, or skeleton. The lung is then seeded with the stem cells of the transplant patient. The body would be less likely to reject that newly-refurbished organ because its got the same DNA as the transplant patient.
Right now most donor organs are packed in ice and only have a shelf life of 4 to 6 hours. With the Khalpey's method and the bio-reactor, the organs can last 3 days at room temperature.
"We can trick the metabolism of the lung to keep it going for that long," said Khalpey. "This is going to help people by bringing more lungs to the donor pool, improving marginal lungs to amazing lungs before transplant."
Khalpey and his colleagues have already used the bio-reactor to successfully grow a new pig heart and lungs. They are now experimenting with human organs. Dr. Khalpey says we could see significant results within two years.