A team of researchers have succeeded in growing lung cells from stem cells in vitro. The research could potentially lead to an innovative new treatment for Chronic Pulmonary Obstructive Disorder (COPD) and other smoking-related lung diseases such as idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF).
Both lung diseases are fatal, and while there are treatments that can slow progression of the diseases and help patients manage their symptoms, there is no cure. However, regenerative medicine using stem cells could be used to help patients repair their damaged lung tissue and prevent the diseases from progressing.
Scientists have managed to harvest stem cells from the bone marrow of patients; grow and differentiate those cells in vitro, and reintroduce them into the part of the body where they are needed. However, so far, the use of stem cell treatments has largely been limited to blood diseases such as lymphoma and leukemia. The reintroduction of lung cells could help to treat COPD and IPF, increasing the lifespan of individuals who have contracted the diseases.
Funding for the research was provided by Oklahoma Center for Adult Stem Cell Research (OCASCR), which came from the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust. The research team comprises scientists from the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, and Oklahoma State University.
Director of the Oklahoma Center for Respiratory and Infectious Diseases, Lin Liu, said “We can convert adult stem cells into lung cells using our engineering process in petri dishes, which offers the possibility to repair damaged lung tissues in lung diseases.” Liu went on to say, “Using our engineered cells, we can also reverse some pathological features. These studies give us hope for an eventual application of these cells in humans.”
While the team has managed to grow lung cells from stem cells in vitro, it is currently unclear whether damaged lung cells would be repaired and whether the treatment would lead to a reduction in symptoms or would halt the progression of the disease. Until trials are conducted, it is impossible to tell whether stem cell treatments will work. However, Liu is hopeful that the lung cells could eventually be used in human trials and could help reverse the harmful effects of tobacco smoking.
Should that happen, many lives could be saved. COPD is the third biggest killer in the United States. More than 11 million individuals in the United States have been diagnosed with COPD, although since the diseases is not typically diagnosed until patients have reached stage 2 and are experiencing symptoms, millions more individuals are likely to already have the disease.