Mass. General and Harvard researchers implant artificial lungs into rat

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By Thomas Lee

Just weeks after researchers at the University of Minnesota medical school said they grew breathing rat lungs in a laboratory, a team from Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard University announced they not only grew rat lungs but also implanted the organs into rats.

The lungs functioned for six hours, albeit imperfectly, according to a study the team published in the journal Nature Medicine.

The Massachusetts team used a process called decelluralization, in which they strip cells off a lung, leaving only a scaffolding or frame. They then inject stem cells into the matrix and grow the organ in a bioreactor, a sort of an artificial womb.

The technique has also been used by University of Minnesota scientists, including the lung project, and Doris Taylor, who attracted worldwide attention in 2008 by growing a beating rat’s heart in a jar. Taylor’s work was spun out into start-up called Miromatrix Inc.

The Massachusetts team took the technology to a new level by using a mix of stem cells from rats and humans and implanting the resulting lung into a rat. All of this work provides third party validation that the basic technology behind decellularization works, said Miromatrix CEO Robert Cohen.

Harald Ott, the lead researcher on the Massachusetts team and considered the father of regenerative medicine, sits on Miromatrix’s board of directors.

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