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Lung cells created from stem cells

Scientists from the Columbia University Medical Center have come closer to producing lung tissue for transplantation using autologous – patient own – stem cells. According to the study published in Nature Biotechnology, they have generated functioning lung and airway cells from  human stem cells, namely from induced pluripotent stem cells that were made from a patient’s own skin cells. The finding can be useful for modelling lung disease, testing and screening drugs and even producing lung tissue for transplantation.

To date, researchers world-wide concentrated on turning human stem cells into heart cells, liver cells, intestinal cells, and nerve cells, but little attention was paid to lung cells, whereas lung transplants usually have a poor prognosis. The finding by the Columbia University Medical Center team makes autologous lung transplantation a step closer, though many years may pass before the technology enters the medical practice and can be applied for treating patients.

In their previous research, the team has found chemical factors that can coax induced pluripotent stem cells or human embryonic stem cells into lung and airway cells precursors. In their recent research, the scientists have generated functional lung epithelial cells that that cover the lungs' surface.

These cells are of particular importance due to their ability to produce lipoprotein complexes crucial for maintaining the lung alveoli that are responsible for gas exchange. They also play an important role in reparing the lungs after damage or injury.

The researchers hope this technology will open way to creating laboratory models of lung diseases, facilitate drug testing and screening and eventually lead to generating autologous lung grafts that will help to avoid histocompatibility and rejection problems.