Researchers want to create “universal donor” lungs

A pair of lungs were given a new identity by researchers at the Toronto General Hospital Research Institute. When the lungs first arrived in the lab, they were from someone with type A blood, meaning that there were small markers attached to the lung tissue and blood cells. When the lungs left the lab, the antigens were almost completely gone. The lungs were transformed into type O in just one hour.

The researcher in the Cypel Lab at the University of Toronto is the first author on a paper that describes the transformation. The experiment will help give more people access to life-saving organ transplants. More than 100,000 people in the United States are waiting for an organ, but many of them can't get it because their blood type isn't compatible.

The lead author of the paper is a thoracic surgeon who spent years figuring out ways to increase the number of lungs available for transplants. One of his previous innovations was the creation of ex vivo lung perfusion, a plastic-domed apparatus in which the lungs got their new identity.

The device allows doctors to feed donated lungs in a protected environment, which improves their transplant viability. Lungs inside the EVLP warm up before they are put on ice and then transplant, unlike organs that are put on ice and then go straight to the operating room. Doctors can use EVLP to administer drugs that improve the quality of the organ, saving slightly damaged lungs that might have been ineligible for use before.


A, B, O, andAB are the major blood types. The base model is called type O. It doesn't have any antigens that attach to it. The A and B blood types have different types of antigens that attach to the core.

The donor and recipient need to have compatible blood types. If someone with type O or B blood receives a donation from someone with type A blood, the recipient's immune system will attack the transplant organ, which is perceived as a foreign invader. Rejection can be deadly.

People with type O blood are considered universal donors because their blood and tissue won't set off an immune response for recipients of any blood type.

Cypel hoped that increasing the number of universal donors would make the process more equitable. If a pair of donor lungs match the person's blood type, they might be the wrong size for them. Too small will not provide enough oxygen. They won't fit into the chest if they are too big.