In a small pilot study, North Carolina State University researchers demonstrated a rapid way to generate large numbers of lung stem cells, which showed promise in mice for treating idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF). Ke Cheng, lead researcher of the project, says, “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.”

The researchers used a multicellular spheroid method to harvest and grow individual lung stem cells. The lung stem cells are at the center of the spheroid surrounded by layers of supporting cells. In a small animal trial, Cheng and his graduate students tested the spheroid-produced human lung cells on mice with IPF. Cheng explains that the mice that received the stem cell transplant showed decreases in inflammation and fibrosis. He states, “Their lungs almost matched those of the control group, who did not have IPF at all. And the beauty of the process is that the cell therapy can be delivered intravenously.”

“We’re the first lab to show that the spheroid environment can be used to enrich adult lung stem cells. In the spheroid, we recreate the stem cells’ natural microenvironment, the ‘niche,’ where they can communicate with each other just as they would inside your body,” says Cheng. “There is no use of exogenous or transgenic materials — the stem cells are 100 percent the donor’s own genetic material, a perfect match to the patient and the organ being treated.”

According to Science Daily, Cheng’s next steps will be to see if potent stem cells can be harvested and grown from biopsied tissue of IPF patients, which would further reduce the number of invasive procedures a patient would need to endure. Cheng says, “We’ve demonstrated that the spheroid is a wonderful method for stem cell production — now we want to try and harvest the original cells during the biopsy. Of course, our ultimate goal is to use this method to treat humans with IPF.”

Source: Science Daily