Progress in Efforts to Develop Lab Grown Lungs: Functional Cells
Since the development of induced pluripotent stem cells in 2006, scientists have managed to use the manufactured stem cells like seeds to grow a wide range of tissues and rudimentary organs. These advances have generated a lot of excitement about future applications.
Specifically, the potential to grow new organs for patients rather than requiring them to wait for a transplant.
It’s an exciting endpoint, but there are still major hurdles to clear before we get there. Different tissue types have not proven equal, and researchers are still struggling to coax stem cells to take on certain roles, including workhorses like lung cells. But Columbia University researchers recently managed to develop functional lung and airway cells from human iPSCs.
In work published in Nature Biotechnology, the researchers developed six types of lung and airway cells and documented evidence of basic functionality.
“Researchers have had relative success in turning human stem cells into heart cells, pancreatic beta cells, intestinal cells, liver cells, and nerve cells, raising all sorts of possibilities for regenerative medicine. Now, we are finally able to make lung and airway cells,” said study leader Hans-Willem Snoeck in a news release. “This is important because lung transplants have a particularly poor prognosis.”
By removing chemicals that seem to stymie the development of lung cells, Snoeck and his colleagues were able to obtain more lung cells from the stem cells (see photo above). The resulting cells showed evidence of working as they would in the body, with Type 2 aveolar cells absorbing and releasing surfactant, which helps maintain the cells where gas exchange takes place.
Solid evidence, in other words, but not a home run.