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Promising results from stem cell research into COPD

2 October 2017

Researchers at the Trust and the National Heart and Lung Institute (NHLI), Imperial College, have published research showing that the use of stem cells can reduce the effects of damage in the lungs, as seen in those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

COPD is a disease where the lungs become inflamed, damaged and narrowed. The main cause is smoking, although the condition can sometimes affect people who have never smoked.

Mitochondria movement in stem cells.jpg
Transfer of healthy mitochondria from stem cell to damaged lung cell

The research, carried out in collaboration with Imperial College London and Hong Kong University, involved taking cells from human lungs and exposing them to cigarette smoke to investigate the effects. 

They found that in these exposed cells, the energy producing units inside the cells (mitochondria) became less effective at producing energy and were effectively damaged by the release of oxidant chemicals from the cigarette smoke. Once damaged these cells were then more likely to enter a process known as programmed cell death, or apoptosis, when the cell dies.

However, when these damaged cells were cultured with stem cells (specialised cells in the body that can turn into different types of cells), the researchers noticed healthy mitochondria migrating from the stem cells into the damaged cells. This restored the function of the cells and effectively reduced the number of dying cells.

The research was led by Professor Fan Chung, consultant respiratory physician, and Dr Pankaj Bhavsar, honorary reader at the Trust.

On publication of the research, Professor Fan Chung said: “These results are very promising but we need to build up more evidence to show that the therapy works and look at ways to make sure we can get enough of the stem cells directly to the parts of the lung where it is needed.”

This research is expected to lead to further studies which could see the potential of cell-based treatments for patients with COPD in the future.

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