Human lungs under a dome, surrounded by computer screens and medical equipment, in front of shape covered in blue sheet.

Human lungs can be reconditioned for transplant by connecting them to a living pig (under blue sheet). Credit: A. E. Hozain et al./Nature Med.

Medical research

How to use a live pig to revitalize a human lung

Unusual method could increase the supply of lungs available for transplantation.

Damaged human lungs could be rejuvenated to allow for transplant into people if the organs were hooked up to a pig’s circulatory system.

Matthew Bacchetta at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic at Columbia University in New York City and their colleagues collected five human lungs that had been deemed unsuitable for transplantation because of acute damage. The researchers also gave immunosuppressant drugs and a component of cobra venom to five pigs to prevent the animals’ immune systems from attacking the human lungs after attachment.

Next, the team connected the lungs’ blood vessels to the pigs’ jugular veins and allowed their blood to intermix for 24 hours. When the researchers examined the human lungs afterwards, they found that the organs’ structure and function had improved enough to make them suitable for transplantation. They have not yet performed human trials.

Using this method to increase the number of healthy lungs available could cut the length of time people wait for transplants, the authors say.