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Resuscitating Lungs for Transplant

A study in the journal Science Translational Medicine details a new procedure for making damaged, donated lungs functional, potentially doubling the number of lungs available for transplant. Cynthia Graber reports

[The following is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

Emphysema and cystic fibrosis patients who need new lungs are faced with a life-threatening problem: more than 80 percent of donated lungs can’t be used—they’re inflamed and barely functional. But a new approach, detailed this week in the new journal Science Translational Medicine, describes a novel gene therapy that can repair these damaged lungs—and make them available for transplant.

Researchers first developed a system for preserving the lungs. They put the organs in a glass chamber and kept them functioning and at human body temperature. This technique proved better than freezing. Then they inserted into the lungs a gene IL-10. The gene plays a key role in inhibiting the immune response. About six hours after injection, the cells start producing proteins that combat the damaging inflammation. The presence of the IL-10 gene may also lower the chances that the recipient of the lung will reject the transplanted organ.

After the gene therapy, treated lungs showed improved blood flow and were significantly better at taking in oxygen and expelling carbon dioxide. The technique could double the number of lungs available for transplant, truly making patients breathe easier.

—Cynthia Graber

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