Growing Lungs May Soon Be A Reality

Local researchers are working to advance stem cell research that will allow scientists to grow organs.

Stem Cell Research image via Shutterstock.

Scientists may soon be able to grow lungs because of new research. Stem Cell Research image via Shutterstock.

Researchers from the Center for Regenerative Medicine, which is a collaboration of Boston Medical Center and Boston University scientists, are working to advance stem cell research in a way that will allow them to grow organs, including lungs, in the not-too-distant future.

According to a report from Boston Medical Center, a team of researchers hopes to come up with new treatment options for people suffering from lung disorders. The American Lung Association estimates that 24 million Americans have impaired lung function, ranging from asthma to severe pulmonary disease, so this new research is much needed.

Dr. Darrell Kotton, the director of the Center for Regenerative Medicine and a lead researcher on the study, said in the report that he hopes to focus on patients whose lungs do not heal effectively because of disease:

“From emphysema and asthma to lung cancer, diseases of the lung cause a tremendous burden of human suffering and health care costs in the US today,” Kotton says. “Unfortunately, treatments for many of these diseases are inadequate.”

Kotton’s team generates stem cells from patients who have not healed effectively because of disease by using a technology called reprogramming. His team takes small samples of skin or blood cells and reprograms those cells into cells which function similarly to embryonic stem cells.

“By developing the methods needed to coax those stem cells into new lung cells, we can use them to model the patient’s disease,” Kotton says in the report. “Because each patient’s stem cells are unique, we can also use these cells to develop individualized treatments for each patient in the future. One day, we even hope to engineer new bioartificial lungs from these cells.”

Although still in research phases, the use of these stem cells has vast implications for lung treatments, as well as for the ability to eventually grow all types of organs. Kotton also allows other scientists to use his stem cell bank, which represents a variety of inherited lung ailments from cystic fibrosis to sickle cell anemia, for free. This sharing will hopefully lead to advances in stem cell treatments across a variety of disciplines.