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Emily Singer

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Revitalizing Donor Lungs

Gene therapy could boost the number of lungs available for transplant.

  • October 30, 2009
Scientists infused donor lungs with an anti-inflammatory gene, a treatment that might increase the number of organs available for transplant. [Image courtesy of Science/AAAS]

A new gene therapy treatment designed to reduce inflammation can prevent damage in donor lungs, potentially making more organs available for transplant. According to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, about 1,800 people in the United States are currently waiting for a lung transplant.

Researchers from the McEwen Centre for Regenerative Medicine in Toronto had previously developed a novel system to improve the health of donor lungs, which mimics normal physiological conditions by continuously pumping oxygen, proteins and nutrients into the injured organs. In the new study, published this week in the journal Science Translational Medicine, researchers infused the lungs with the gene for a molecule called Il-10, which reduces inflammation. Both pig and human lungs given the treatment functioned better than untreated organs, with better blood flow and less swelling, an affect that lasted up to 30 days. And the treated lungs functioned better when transplanted into pigs.

According to an article in the Los Angeles Times,

They then took human lungs that were considered too damaged for transplantation and subjected them to the same procedure. The treatment significantly improved blood flow through the lungs and improved their ability to take in fresh oxygen and remove carbon dioxide. The higher levels of IL-10 persisted in the lungs for 30 days, suggesting that the procedure could also reduce rejection of the organs. The lungs were not implanted in humans.

The procedure “not only may result in improved preservation of lungs [before transplantation] but also may repair lungs otherwise not suitable for transplantation,” Dr. David S. Wilkes of the Indiana University School of Medicine wrote in an editorial accompanying the report.

But several questions remain, he said. Implanting lungs from a human donor might present more problems. And the use of adenoviruses has caused complications in some gene-therapy experiments when the virus inserted the added gene at an inappropriate location.

Keshavjee said the team hopes to begin human trials in a year or so.

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