TEDMED 2010: 'Superorgans' Could Revolutionize Transplants

01/31/2011 09:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Imagine: Two lungs are removed from a person and replaced with the lungs of another human being. And the body survives. It's a medical marvel, said Shaf Keshavjee, M.D., a thoracic surgeon and director of Toronto Lung Transplant Program, at TEDMED.

But, he added, "It's not a perfect science yet." Organ transplantation can be a rocky road, for both patients and doctors. The recipient's body often sees the new organ as a foreign object and attempts to reject it.

"What I'd like to do is really stretch your mind, to see where we're going in the future with organ replacement," said Keshavjee. "I'm going to talk about engineering superogans."

Superorgans are genetically modified organs that are better prepared to deal with the stress of the transplant process. Keshavjee and his team figured out a way to keep an organ alive outside the body, at normal temperature, long enough to assess it and treat it.

"We've really taken the system, totally, and turned it around," said Keshavjee. Here's how it works:

To demonstrate, Keshavjee rolled a machine out onto the TEDMED stage with a live pig lung on it -- swelling up and down with breath. He invited a few audience members to touch it. The cutting-edge technology gives doctors time to identify any specific problems with the organ, treat it with targeted gene therapy, cell therapy, drugs and medication, and then transplant a known product into the recipient.

"Now this looks like science fiction to you, but it's not," said Keshavjee. "We're doing this today. We have transplanted 30 patients using this technique -- using lungs that we wouldn't have used."

Learn more about this new technology, and see what a pair of breathing lungs look like, below.


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