All organs in the human body begin their lives as clumps of human stem cells. They eventually differentiate into specialised cells and form organs. The human stem cells that form lungs turn into airways, alveoli, and other components of the lungs.
It is a complex process that has been studied by scientists for many years. Researchers have been particularly interested in understanding how diseases that affect the lungs occur. If they can understand how diseases like cystic fibrosis begin, they may be able to find a cure.
Scientists at Boston University's Center for Regenerative Medicine (CReM) have just announced two major research breakthroughs that will help them determine how lung diseases begin.
They can now grow and purify lung progenitor cells from human stem cells. Lung progenitor cells are the earliest form of lung cells. They can take these cells and use them to create ‘bronchospheres’, which are clusters of cells. They can then model diseases like cystic fibrosis and test various drugs against the disease. These research findings may lead to new approaches for treating lung diseases.
As one of the lead researchers, Dr. Kotton explains: "There's a long list of lung diseases for which there are no treatments other than a lung transplant, it’s critically important to develop new tools for understanding these diseases."
There are many lung diseases that are currently incurable. Being able to use human stem cells to create bronchospheres will help researchers understand where these diseases are coming from and how to treat them.