Doctors believe a pioneering transplant technique which cleans and reconditions donor lungs could help save the lives of many patients desperately waiting for new organs.

A UK-wide study has been welcomed by patients groups who claim it will bring hope to many with chronic lung disorders.

Only one in five of the potential donor lungs available in the UK is currently used in lung transplants.

The rest are turned down as they are in too poor a condition to safely transplant, the team said.

Almost a third of those currently waiting for a lung transplant at any one time will never be matched with a donor organ and many will die before suitable donor organs are found, the doctors said.

The new technique, called ex-vivo lung perfusion or EVLP, involves cleaning and aerating the donor lungs after they are removed from the donor.

It is being piloted in a small scale study and has already been shown to work in eight patients.

The study, which is coordinated by the DEVELOP-UK team from Newcastle University and Newcastle upon Tyne NHS Foundation Trust, will now bring together all the lung transplant centres in England to test the new technique.

Philippa Bradbury, 21, from Mirfield, near West Yorkshire, has benefited from lungs reconditioned using the technique.

Miss Bradbury, who was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis (CF) at 15-months-old, was put on the lung transplant waiting list and had four calls in five months for a transplant but each time the donor lungs were unusable.

She said: "Before the transplant I was in and out of hospital, my quality of life had really gone down.

"Unlike my friends of similar ages I wasn't able to enjoy the spontaneity of going out and enjoying myself. I became too tired and too out of breath to do anything.

"After the transplant I was only in hospital for 11 days, because the reconditioned lungs were perfect.

"It was amazingly quick."

Professor Andrew Fisher, who is leading the research team, said: "Unfortunately lungs are an incredibly delicate organ and they are easily damaged by events that happen before their removal from the donor. If we can make more of the donor lungs currently turned down available for transplant that will be a great benefit to many patients whose lives are severely limited by their severe breathing problems.

"We know already from experience in a small numbers of patients that this technique can work, we now need to prove it on a large scale, so that EVLP can be rolled-out across the country as a new technology in lung transplantation."

Ed Owen, chief executive of the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, said: "The CF Trust is striving for all people with Cystic Fibrosis who require a transplant to receive one.

"Sadly many people currently die before lungs become available. "The EVLP research is revolutionary for people with CF as it makes more lungs available and therefore offers real hope and life for many people."

James Neuberger, medical director, organ donation and transplantation for NHS Blood and Transplant, said: "There remains a severe shortage of organs donated for transplantation and we desperately need more people to donate and to make as best use of those organs that are donated so that more lives can be saved.

"We therefore warmly welcome this initiative that will look at novel ways in which more lungs can be made available for transplantation and save more lives."

Chris Watson, president of the British Transplantation Society, said the study could offer hope to transplant patients. "The BTS wishes to congratulate the DEVELOP-UK research team for setting up this study."

The DEVELOP-UK study involves all five NHS adult lung transplant centres - Harefield Hospital, in London; Papworth Hospital, in Cambridge; Queen Elizabeth Hospital, in Birmingham; Wythenshawe Hospital, in Manchester; and Freeman Hospital, in Newcastle.

It is being funded by the Department of Health via the National Institute for Health Research with additional funding provided by the Cystic Fibrosis Trust.