Step closer to better lung disease treatments

Irish team in cell growing breakthrough
  • Deborah Condon

Scientists have taken a step closer to developing better treatments for lung diseases, after an Irish-led team improved the technique for growing lung cells in the laboratory.

Millions of people worldwide suffer with severe lung diseases, often without good treatments or a cure. Some of these diseases may even require a lung transplant. This is a complex and high-risk surgery and the need for donor organs always exceeds the supply.

However, the team from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) improved how new lung cells are generated in a dish. Using this technique, cells can be grown in a laboratory and stored for over 12 months without losing their lung identity. They can also be used to model lung diseases.

The scientists explained that the main hurdle to understanding what goes wrong with an individual patient's lung cells "has been our inability to access those cells or to grow them in the laboratory".

"We were able to improve our methods for generating lung cells so that we can now create more relevant cells that keep their cell identity in a dish for more than one year," explained the study's co-author, Dr Killian Hurley, of the RCSI.

The scientists believe that this study will improve their ability to model lung disease and treatments in the laboratory for diseases including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and neonatal respiratory distress.

Working in collaboration with scientists from Boston University and Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in Pittsburgh, the RCSI team was able to improve this technique by using a combination of pluripotent stem cells (cells that can potentially produce any cell or tissue type) and machine learning (artificial intelligence that allows computers to learn automatically).

They pointed out that often when this type of experiment is performed, the resulting cells are not a pure collection of the cell that they aimed to create (target cell), and they do not keep the characteristics of the target cell for prolonged periods of time.

"The methods we developed for this study can also be applied to studies of other tissues and organs. We hope that our newly developed techniques for generating a pure, unlimited supply of cells using patients-derived stem cells can make possible new treatments or cures for diseases. These developments would prolong lives and improve the quality of those lives," commented the study's other co-author, Dr Jun Ding, of CMU.

Details of these findings are published in the journal, Cell Stem Cell.


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