RCSI: Lung disease cures boosted with growth of long-lasting stem cells

30 Jan 2020

Image: © LIGHTFIELD STUDIOS/Stock.adobe.com

Researchers have developed a way to grow cells in dish that could help develop treatments and cures for lung diseases.

An international team led by the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) has seen great promise in a new stem cell breakthrough published to the journal Cell Stem Cell. It said that the breakthrough significantly improves how lung cells are grown in the lab, allowing them to be stored for more than one year without losing their ability to model lung diseases.

This was achieved using a combination of pluripotent stem cells – cells that can potentially produce any cell or tissue type – and machine learning. It was developed in collaboration with Boston University and Carnegie Mellon University (CMU).

Induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells are derived from the donated skin or blood cells of adults and, with the reactivation of four genes, are reprogrammed back to an embryonic stem-cell-like state. These cells can be differentiated toward any cell type in the body and do not require the use of embryos.

As part of previous work undertaken by Boston University and the Boston Medical Center, researchers reprogrammed blood from adults into iPS cells. These stem cells were then treated over a period of one month until they formed adult lung cells.

An ‘unlimited supply of cells’

However, the resulting cells are not a pure collection of the target cell and tend to degrade quite quickly.

“Therefore, we developed a combination of techniques that examines the gene expression of thousands of single cells combined with DNA barcoding of each individual cell and machine learning to build up a dynamic picture of what factors favour cells that go on to be lung cells in our system,” said RSCI’s Killian Hurley, co-author of the study along with Jun Ding of CMU.

Among the diseases this breakthrough could help fight include idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency and neonatal respiratory distress or early-onset interstitial lung disease. Jun said that the machine learning methods used in this research could also be applied to other tissues and organs.

“We hope that our newly developed techniques for generating a pure, unlimited supply of cells using patients-derived stem cells can make possible new treatments or cures for diseases,” he said. “These developments would prolong lives and improve the quality of those lives.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic