Patients with lung diseases have hope for new treatments in the future due to an advance in adult stem cell research. Embryonic stem cells have once again been trumped by adult stem cells as the advance shows that they continue to be more ethical and effective. Embryonic cells, on the other hand, have not helped any patients and are only obtained by destroying human embryos.
According to a statement released by the University of Minnesota, for the first time, researchers have been able to coax umbilical cord blood stem cells to differentiate into a type of lung cell.
The cord blood cells differentiated into a type of lung cell called type II alveolar cells. The cells allow air sacs in the lungs to remain open (which allows air to move in and out of the sacs) by secreting surfactant.
Helping to repair the airway after injury is another responsibility the cells have.
“In the future, we may be able to examine cord blood from babies who have lung diseases, such as cystic fibrosis, to do more research to understand how these diseases evolve as well as to develop better medical treatments,” said Dr. David, M.D.
David is the medical director of the Clinical Cell Therapy Lab at the University of Minnesota Medical Center and an assistant professor of lab medicine and pathology.
The discovery is a “step toward developing treatment for various lung diseases” David said.
The journal of Cytotherapy will publish David’s findings in their November 7th, 2006 issue.
Some premature babies are born with underdeveloped lungs and this is because Type II alveolar cells develop late in fetal development. Through a child’s first few years of life, the cells and the air sacs as a whole continue to mature and develop.
The cells could be used as a research aid to enhance our understanding of lung development and disease as the researchers will try to better characterize the cells for the future. Testing for new drugs could also be another potential use for the cells.
David and his team first derived the Multi-Lineage Progenitor Cell from umbilical cord blood during the process of differentiating the lung cells from the cord blood.
This particular stem cell is a precursor cell that can be expanded in culture, then differentiated into different types of tissue representative of all three embryonic lineages, mesoderm, ectoderm, and endoderm.
The MLPC differentiated into the lung cells, an endoderm-type cell, after they were cultured by David and his group in a series of experiments. They were able to find cells that exhibited key markers present in type II alveolar cells by testing them using various methods.