Human lung organoids have been grown in laboratory, a big step forward towards gaining a better understanding of respiratory diseases. The new findings are published in the journal Nature Cell Biology.
The lung organoids are tiny, 3D tissues consisting of different types of cells. The structure was made from human pluripotent stem cells; the latter are ‘mother cells’, that is, they differentiate into new specialised cells.
The lab-made lungs display the main features of real, complete human lungs. Organoids are increasingly being created in by researchers to be used as models for human respiratory diseases to test new drugs, and to regenerate damaged tissues, with the aim to ultimately treat them. The new study, thus, promises to expand our understanding of such medical conditions. The breakthrough was accomplished by a team of researchers from Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC); their mini-lungs are the first to have branching air pathways similar to the real ones.
Producing organoids is, however, no easy task. Lead author, CUMC’s Hans-Willem Snoeck, explains that the difficulty lies in making organoids that can reproduce the main features of human disease.
In spite of the challenges, though, Snoeck and his team were able to demonstrate that their organoids could respond to a disease called respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) in the same manner as a real lung would. Moreover, the organoids also reacted like normal lungs to a gene mutation associated with pulmonary fibrosis.
These two conditions are exist without effective treatment. RSV is responsible for lower respiratory tract infection in babies, and neither vaccine nor successful antiviral therapy has been developed yet. As for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, it leads to over 30,000 deaths per year in the US, with lung transplant the only efficient cure. Using organoids is deemed the best way to attemp fighting these diseases.
“Organoids, created with human pluripotent or genome-edited embryonic stem cells, may be the best, and perhaps only, way to gain insight into the pathogenesis of these diseases,” says Dr. Snoeck.