Giving hope for life-saving universal organs: Doctors converted the blood type of human lungs in the lab
For the first time in human history, a dedicated team of doctors has done a groundbreaking experiment that opened the door to the future of universal organs. Yes, They changed the blood type of human lungs. This remarkable turning point in medical science will pave the way for creating universal organs that could be transplanted into any individual, without worrying about the blood type.
According to the Health Resources and Services Administration, an average of 17 people die every day while waiting for a vital organ. Many patients don’t get a heart, lung, or kidney because the blood type of the available organs is not matching for them. Not only that, but many organs can also be wasted just because there’s no recipient of the same blood type is available.
Dr. Marcelo Cypel, a lung-transplant surgeon at the Ajmera Transplant Centre in Canada, usually gets donor’s lungs. But the problem is that the organ doesn’t match most of the critical patients in his hospital. So he’s started performing organ transplants on less urgent patients whose blood types matched. Although, other patients died because they didn’t get matching organs at right time.
Also, Transplant surgeons are facing similar problems in the United States. According to the Stanford Blood Center, 42% of the population in the U.S. has Type A blood. So usually, people with Type O or Type B blood have to wait longer for matching organ transplants.,
To find a solution to this emerging problem, Cypel led a research team to change three human lungs from Type A to Type O blood, possibly transforming them into universal organs. Their findings and observations were published in the Science Translational Medicine journal on Wednesday.
Type O blood is considered a “universal blood donor type,” because it can be given to patients of any blood type without their bodies rejecting it.
Of course, this is experimental. But, if the technique successfully works in human trials, it could save the lives of millions of people around the world. By making the universal organs available in the United States, we could save the lives of more than 106,000 people on the country’s national organ-transplant waiting list.
But still, there’s a major problem. The converted organs are reverting to their original blood type. If that happens after the transplantation, a patient’s body might reject the organ, leaving them inactive. This may kill the patient. So Cypel and his team of researchers are planning to run the trials on mice to observe and analyze how long the organ takes to revert and how the body of mice respond.
Dr. Alyssa Burgart, a transplant anesthesiologist and bioethicist at Stanford University, told Insider “There are a lot of hurdles left before you would be able to utilize one of these organs in a transplant recipient. I would want to see it successfully utilized in an animal model before putting a patient through that risk.”
Even though there are several hurdles, Cypel believes that if the mouse studies go well, his team could probably start the transplantation of converted organs into patients in about a year. Proof-of-concept studies normally have about 10 patients. If that goes well, the transplantation can progress to larger clinical trials and other organs.
“I think that will change, a lot, the landscape of organ transplantation,” Cypel said, “There is no reason to think that that wouldn’t work for kidneys and hearts and liver.”
For all these, Cypel got inspiration from a 2019 experiment when a team of researchers used an enzyme to remove the antigens, or signature sugar molecules, from Type A blood. That experiment turned the blood into Type O, which doesn’t have antigens for the immune system to attack. This is the main reason that makes Type O blood a universal blood donor type.
After that, Cypel reached out the biochemist Stephen Withers, the 2019 research leader. Together, they’ve experimented to check whether the enzyme could do the same for organs.
They legally collected three pairs of lungs from deceased donors for experimental purposes. Then they used the enzyme on three of the lungs using a special machine that pumps the fluid through the organs to keep them alive. The experiment was held at the University Health Network’s Ajmera Transplant Centre, where Cypel is the surgical director.
Each pair of lungs had one treated with the enzyme, and one kept untreated. After a few hours, the enzyme scrubbed 97% of A antigens in the blood vessels of the treated lungs.
After that, Cypel’s research team pumped Type O plasma to all of the lungs. After one hour of observation, the plasma started rejecting the untreated lungs and deployed antibodies causing inflammation to the organ tissue. But, in the case of the lungs that had been flushed with the enzyme, there was no such injury over six hours of observation.
So, This will be a giant leap towards helping hospitals to get more organs to more patients.
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