‘Organoids’ provide insight into lung disorder

Researchers identified an innovative way to study idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

Researchers from the Eli and Edythe Broad center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCLA utilized the fantastic abilities of stem cells to cultivate 3D lung “organoids.”  This lung tissue is expected to be used in further studies of diseases such as idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

Dr. Brigitte Gomperts, associate professor of pediatric hematology/oncology, explained, “While we haven’t built a fully functional lung, we’ve been able to take lung cells and place them in the correct geometrical spacing and pattern to mimic a human lung.”  The researchers used lung-derived stem cells and small gel beads which they allowed to assemble into air sacs found in human lungs.

“The researchers used lung-derived stem cells and small gel beads which they allowed to assemble into air sacs found in human lungs. “

Before this ground-breaking research, scientists used 2D cultures of cells to study genetic mutations or drugs and their effects on lung cells.  However, when they would take cells from people suffering from idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and grow them on culture, the cells would look healthy.  Gomperts stated, “scientists have really not been able to model lung scarring in a dish.”  To get around this, Gomperts and colleagues took stem cells from adult lungs, coated them only sticky hydrogel beads, and separated those beads into small wells.  Within each well, the lung cells expanded around the beads that eventually linked to form a 3D pattern demonstrating small organoids that appear real lungs.

Dan Wilkinson, a grad student studying material science and engineering explained, “The technique is very simple.  We can make thousands of reproducible pieces of tissue that resemble lung and contain patient-specific cells.”

When they added certain factors to the cultures, the lungs developed scars so then they could study how idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis affects the lungs and potential treatments.

It would be interesting to see if this research could be reproduced on other tissues or to study the effects of other disorders on lungs and potential remedies.

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