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Thursday, 16 May, 2002, 23:03 GMT 00:03 UK
'Growing human lungs' a step closer
Lungs could one day be repaired using stem cells
Lungs could one day be repaired using stem cells
The prospect of growing human lung parts for transplant has been brought closer by successful tests in mice.

Scientists from Imperial College London, UK, have, for the first time, changed mouse stem cells into a specific type of lung cell.

This means it may one day be possible to regenerate damaged lung tissue.

The team from the Imperial College Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine Centre at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital used stem cells from mouse embryos in their research.


This research sounds as if it could literally be a lifeline for the people who need lung transplants

Dame Helena Shovelton, British Lung Foundation
Stem cells are the body's "master cells" and can develop into a wide variety of different cell types.

The researchers put the stem cells into a molecular solution called a growth factor, which directed the cells into the kind needed - those which line the part of the lung where oxygen is absorbed and carbon dioxide excreted.

The scientists now plan to design bioactive "scaffolds" on which the cells can grow, and then be transplanted.

Shortage

At the moment, the only sure way of addressing terminal lung disease is transplantation from another person, which can give patients an extra 10 to 20 years of active life.

But there is a chronic shortage of donor organs and a high risk of rejection after transplantation.

Although the research being carried out at Imperial College is not likely to result in a treatment for around a decade, scientists believe it could eventually address both issues.

Dr Anne Bishop, from the Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine Centre at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, said: "This research will make it possible eventually to repair lungs that have been damaged by disease, by implanting fully functioning lung cells to repopulate damaged areas.

"Also, unlike transplantation from a donor, the cells can be developed in such a way that the body will not reject them."

She told BBC News Online the discovery could one day benefit people with a range of lung conditions.

"Newborn babies that can't breathe, this will be the cell type they need," she said.

But she said the plan was not just to be able to give patients the cells they needed. "We want to use these cells as a starting block," she said.

'Building block'

The treatment could also be used for people with cystic fibrosis.

She said it would be possible to take some cells from their skin when they were born, and using growth factor, turn them into lung cells which would be ready by the time the children needed them.

She said it was unlikely whole lungs would be grown, but that it would be possible to grow lobes. Each lung has five lobes.

Professor Julia Polak, Director of the Centre, adds: "This is the first time research of this nature has been carried out, and it has provided us with a crucial building block towards being able to construct lung tissue.

"It could eventually mean the end of extensive transplant waiting lists for critically ill patients."

Dame Helena Shovelton, British Lung Foundation chief executive, said: "This research sounds as if it could literally be a lifeline for the people who need lung transplants amongst the eight million affected by lung disease in the UK.

"There is an increasing demand for lung transplants - but there is a race against time to help those potential transplantees who are slowly deteriorating whilst desperately waiting for donors."

The research is published in Tissue Engineering Journal.

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Professor Julia Polak, Imperial College in London
"Lung diseases are very common, and have a common denominator"
See also:

16 Apr 02 | Health
Stem cells could help MS patients
08 Jan 02 | Health
Parkinson's stem cell advance
03 May 01 | Health
'Super stem cell' tested in mice
17 Feb 01 | Health
Stem cells repair stroke damage
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