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Stem cells turned into lung cells another advance for regenerative medicine

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Researchers turn stem cells into lung cells

Regenerative medicine that is the way of the future just got another boost.


Scientists have successfully turned stem cells into lung cells for the first time, advancing regenerative medicine.

The ability to transform skin cells into functional lung cells has major implications for the future of treating pulmonary diseases and especially for transplant patients.

Researchers from Columbia State University say though it will take years to refine the technique, the hope is to be able to generate functional lung cells from a patient's own skin cells.

The finding is especially important for patients with lung transplants, said study leader Dr. Hans-Willem Snoeck who is affiliated with the Columbia Center for Translational Immunology and the Columbia Stem Cell Initiative.

The newest accomplishment is a continuation of pioneering work from James Thomson at University of Wisconsin–Madison and Shinya Yamanaka and colleagues at Kyoto University, Japan in 2007.

The researchers were able to bypass controversial use of embryonic stem cells by manipulating genes to turn human cells into an embryonic state (induced pluropurient stem cells or iPS where they can be coaxed into specialized cells for use in regenerative medicine.

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Other iPS that have been developed by researchers include pancreatic, heart, liver, nerve and intestinal cells.

Snoeck and colleagues first identified precursors to lung cells in the lab in 2011. Their newest advance came about after they discovered how to manipulate chemicals in the cells to produce specific characteristics needed to make the cells function properly.

The new cells developed had characteristics of type 2 alveolar lung cells where air is exchanged in addition to 5 other important characteristics of lung cells.

The new cells developed had characteristics of type 2 alveolar lung cells where air is exchanged in addition to other important characteristics of pulmonary cells. One of those included surfactant that coats airway cells to remove toxins and help repair the lungs. Surfactant is also important to prevent collapse of the airways and prevent accumulation of fluid in the lungs.

"In the longer term, we hope to use this technology to make an autologous lung graft," Dr. Snoeck said in a press release. "This would entail taking a lung from a donor; removing all the lung cells, leaving only the lung scaffold; and seeding the scaffold with new lung cells derived from the patient. In this way, rejection problems could be avoided.”

Converting stem cells into lung cells is yet another step toward regenerative medicine that many experts believe is the healthcare of the future.

Nature Biotechnology (2013) doi:10.1038/nbt.2754
Dec. 1, 2013

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