Lung stem cells, in green and red, are shown residing in a cultured lung spheroid. Once the stem cells are grown, they can be injected back into a patient to treat IPF. Photo by NC State University
RALEIGH, N.C., Sept. 9 (UPI) -- Researchers test a faster, cheaper way to harvest and grow lung stem cells from patients' own bodies, making them a perfect match, according to a small proof-of-concept trial.
The method was tested by researchers at North Carolina State University aiming to treat people with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, or IPF, a disease that causes inflammation in lung tissue that over time becomes thick and stiff. This scarring of tissue negatively affects lung function over time.
"In current stem cell harvesting, just the process of sorting the stem cells can damage them, wasting not only the cells, but also time and money," said Ke Cheng, an associate professor of regenerative medicine at NC State, in a press release. "We wanted to see if we could take healthy stem cells from an organ while they were still in a supportive environment, recreate and enhance that environment outside the body to encourage stem cell reproduction, then reintroduce those cells into a damaged organ to treat disease."
Researchers placed healthy, human adult lung stem cells in a multicellular spheroid, a three-dimensional structure with stem cells in the middle surrounded by layers of supported cells. Spheroids are typically used in lab work to culture cancer or embryonic cells.
Using mice with IPF, researchers injected cultured human stem cells into the animals. They showed decreases in inflammation and fibrosis, which Cheng said matched the condition of lungs in the study's control group that did not have IPF.
Aside from trials in humans, Cheng is hopeful that stem cells taken in biopsies can be used to grow and harvest additional cells -- decreasing the number of invasive procedures necessary for treatment.
"Picture the lung as a garden and the stem cells as seeds," Cheng said. "In an IPF environment, with inflammation, the soil is bad, but the seeds are still there. We take the seeds out and give them a protected place to grow. Then when we put them back into the lung, they can grow into mature lung cells to replace the damaged lung tissues in IPF. They can also wake the other seeds up, telling them to help fight the inflammation and 'improving' the soil."
The study is published in STEM CELLS Translational Medicine.