At Vanderbilt University Medical Center there are thousands of people on a list hoping for a life saving lung transplant surgery.

Doctors said 15% of them will die waiting.

"When you lose a patient, and you grow close to them, and you can't get them to transplant, I think we just got tired of losing patients," said Dr. Matthew Bacchetta.  

Bacchetta said 80% of lungs available for donation aren't healthy enough for transplantation.

What they need is time because in a few days those damaged, donated lungs will improve.

"So the focus of our research has been: how can we take those lungs not currently usable for transplantation and give them enough time to get better," said Bacchetta. 

They think they've done it.

Using a pig, they were able to make a lung last for several days.

They were also able to treat that lung and make it healthier, ready for transplant.

The potential here is astounding.

We're talking about human lives that would have been lost, potentially saved.

Next doctors plan to apply the same research to other organs like livers, kidneys and hearts.

"Right now four out of the five lungs we look at are rejected. If we could even recover one out of those four, it would essentially allow us to transplant everybody on the wait list," said Bacchetta.  

Copyright 2019 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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Carley Gordon joined the News4 team as a reporter in 2009. Carley currently covers the crime beat around Middle Tennessee.

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