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Lung Tissue Grown in Lab from Stem Cells

Engineered and natural adult lung tisue

Bioengineered lung-like tissue, on left, resembles adult human lung, right (UCLA Broad Stem Cell Research Center)

16 September 2016. Researchers in regenerative medicine grew three-dimensional pieces of human lung tissue in lab cultures starting from stem cells. The team from University of California in Los Angeles, led by Brigitte Gomperts, professor of pediatric hematology and oncology, published its findings in yesterday’s (15 September) issue of the journal Stem Cells Translational Medicine.

Gomperts and colleagues were seeking better tools to test drugs for lung diseases, such as idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis that are difficult to simulate in the lab, but anticipate lab-grown lung tissue to be used in design of personalized medicines and eventually regenerating entire organs. Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis is a chronic, progressive lung disease, affecting 13 to 20 per 100,000 people, usually between age 50 and 70. The disorder results in fibrosis or scar tissue building up in the lungs, limiting the ability of lungs to transfer oxygen to the blood stream.

The researchers adopted a bottom-up strategy of building lung tissue. The team took adult but pluripotent stem cells from adult human lungs, which they coated on beads made of hydrogel, a water-based biocompatible polymer. The coated hydrogel beads were placed in tiny wells of cell-growing lab cultures, about 7 millimeters across, resembling air sacs in the lungs.

In a bioreactor, the stem cells differentiated, or transformed, into lung tissue cells that self-assembled into pieces of lung tissue the researchers call organoids. Visual microscopic inspections by the team show a sharp resemblance between the engineered and natural adult lung tissue samples.

The researchers also adapted their cell regeneration techniques to produce lung tissue with scarring similar to idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, by adding transforming growth factor-beta1, a protein associated with proliferation of cells, including scar tissue. “While we haven’t built a fully functional lung,” says Gomperts in a UCLA statement, “we’ve been able to take lung cells and place them in the correct geometrical spacing and pattern to mimic a human lung.”

The authors believe they’ve developed a reproducible system for generating lung tissue in the lab for disease modeling and drug testing, including therapies designed for specific patients. “This is the basis for precision medicine and personalized treatments,” Gomperts adds.

Gomperts and several co-authors have taken steps to protect the intellectual property rights for this technology.

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