The lungs in Joan Nichols’ lab have been keeping her up at night. Like children, they’re delicate, developing, and in constant need of attention, which is why she and her team at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston’s Lung Lab have spent the last several years taking turns driving to the lab at 1:00 am to check that the bioreactors housing their experimental organs are not leaking, that the nutrient-rich soup supporting the lungs is still flowing, or that the budding sacs of tissues and veins have not succumbed to contamination. That last risk was a persistent source of anxiety: Building a lung requires suspending the thing for weeks on end in warm, wet, fungus friendly conditions—to say nothing of the subtropical climate of Galveston itself. “In this city, mold will grow on people if they sit still long enough,” Nichols says.
But their vigilance has paid off. In 2014, Nichols’