Many doctors conducting stem cell research have focused on using stem cells to repair various organs, such as the heart and liver. Due to their endeavors, doctors have successfully conducted studies that have yielded positive results in treating those organs. Unfortunately, doctors have not had the same level of success in using stem cells to repair lungs. Of the many current uses for stem cell therapy, there is perhaps none more pressing than treating lung disease, because patients who get lung transplants often receive a poor prognosis. At the moment, there are relatively few approved clinical trials in the U.S. dealing with lung disease, which means that there is still a lot of research to be done in order to learn how to use stem cells effectively. However, a recent study may have finally overcome this obstacle.
Columbia University Professor Hans-Willem Snoeck, MD, PhD, and a group of researchers, conducted a study that used adult stem cells to create new lung tissue. Although there has been research showing that stem cells allow for lung regeneration, researchers have been unable to actually grow new lung cells from stem cells. During their study, Snoeck and his researchers did exactly that by taking autologous cells, cells taken from one’s own body, and creating new lung and airway cells. Although Snoeck and his team managed to generate new cells, they are careful not to overstate their results. Along with their great findings, they also stress that it is still too early to conduct stem cell therapy using their techniques. However, by successfully generating new lung cells, these researchers have given doctors throughout the world hope that lung regeneration may not only be possible but that patients could also receive stem cell therapy within a relatively short period of time.
Stem cell research has already come a long way since the first clinical trials. Although researchers are still learning how to use stem cells to regenerate tissue and treat disease, advances like Snoeck’s are a crucial first step in helping patients with lung disease recover. These studies show that it is possible to use stem cells to regenerate the lungs, so the next step is for doctors to figure out how to take these new cells and incorporate them into existing lungs. More studies will invariably need to be done in order to use Snoeck’s findings to produce viable stem cell therapy. However, this study marks only the beginning of what will hopefully be many more fruitful studies that may one day lead to treatments that will serve as alternatives to lung transplants for those patients in need.
Finally, over the past few years in Sweden, a team led by a thoracic surgeon has performed about twenty tracheal replacements in adults, using each patient’s own stem cells to make an air-tight living wind-pipe. An inert, synthetic tube of patient-specific dimensions was incubated in each patient’s stem cell culture. The fenestrated tube acted as a scaffolding to support the growth of the stem cells to form the neo-trachea.