Lung Stem Cells Discovered that Show Potential for Use in Regenerative Medicine

Lung Stem Cells Discovered that Show Potential for Use in Regenerative Medicine

A team of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia have identified new lung stem cells that spring into action following a pulmonary injury and rapidly multiply in response to biological signals. If those signals could be replicated, the lung stem cells could be used to treat a wide range of lung diseases, including COPD.

The researchers focused their research on the alveoli where oxygen enters the blood stream and carbon dioxide is removed. Damage to the alveoli naturally affects the ability of the body to exchange gasses efficiently.

The researchers mapped various cells in the alveoli and discovered a new type of stem cell in the alveoli of mice, and later the same type of stem cell in humans. Both the mice and human stem cells respond to a similar set of signals.

In response to a lung injury in mice – infection with influenza in this study – the lung stem cells rapidly multiplied and differentiated into alveolar cells to repair damage. The researchers called the cells alveolar epithelial progenitor (AEP) cells.

“Understanding cell-cell interactions should help us discover new players and molecular pathways to target for future therapies,”  said Edward E. Morrisey, PhD, Director of the Penn Center for Pulmonary Biology and Scientific Director of Penn’s Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

The study revealed the stem cells respond to Wnt signals – which are known to be a major stem cell signaling pathway. The cells also respond to Fgt signals, which are believed to trigger and orchestrate the response to lung injury.

“We now understand how the alveolar epithelial niche regenerates following injury. With this information, we may able to design pathway-specific modifiers or cell-based therapies to treat lung damage,” said Morrisey.

The researchers suggest that the discovery could be an important step that could help with the development of treatments for bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD) – A condition often seen in premature babies whose lungs have not had sufficient time to develop. These lung stem cells could also potentially be used to treat adults with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or to repair the lung damage caused by influenza.

The research is detailed in the paper – Regeneration of the lung alveolus by an evolutionarily conserved epithelial progenitor – recently published in Nature.

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