Researchers at the UNC School of Medicine and North Carolina State University have created a method of obtaining and culturing stem cells to treat chronic and potentially fatal lung inflammation. Chronic inflammation in the lungs causes the formation of scar tissue that inhibits proper oxygenation of vital organs, like the heart and brain. Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are some of the most common results of chronic inflammation. With many IPF patients not surviving past 5 years following diagnosis, this treatment could significantly prolong their lives. The treatment is done by isolating a patient’s own lung stem cells through biopsy, then culturing and expanding them to clinically relevant numbers. In an animal model, the subjects were induced to have scarring and inflammation in the lungs to mimic IPF in humans. Those that were injected with their own stem cells showed significant improvement in lung function compared to those that received a placebo.
At this year’s Lung Science Conference in Estoril, Portugal, researchers revealed that mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) can be effective in treating chronic inflammatory lung diseases, such as COPD or cystic fibrosis, which currently have no cure. In pre-clinical trials, MSCs injected intravenously into mice with inflammatory lung diseases demonstrated an ability to repair the damaged lung tissue and alleviate inflammation by decreasing the number of neutrophils and monocytic cells, which are indicators of inflammation.
Scientists at the University of Cambridge and University of Manchester are using stem cells to create study environments that closely resemble human tissue which they call “mini lungs.” These lungs are not designed to be transplanted, but offer a valuable biological use in evaluating new treatments and therapies.