‘Mini Lungs’ May Help Determine Which Therapies Best Suit Patients with IPF

‘Mini Lungs’ May Help Determine Which Therapies Best Suit Patients with IPF

“Mini lungs” created from the tissue of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) patients could be used to predict which of two medications would effectively treat them, according to a new study.

The lung systems, called pulmospheres, could also be used to test new therapies, researchers said in the study, “3D pulmospheres serve as a personalized and predictive multicellular model for assessment of antifibrotic drugs.”

Researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham published the study in the journal JCI Insights.

Pulmospheres are 3-D clusters of living cells. They are about a millimeter in diameter and are grown from tissue obtained through a lung biopsy. They contains all the cell types in human lungs.

Researchers grew pulmospheres from 20 patients with IPF and nine healthy subjects. The lung systems were exposed to one of two commonly used IPF medications: Ofev (nintedanib) or Esbriet (pirfenidone).

Within about 16 hours, researchers were able to observe whether the clusters responded favorably to one, both, or neither of the medications.

Pulmospheres from three patients responded to Ofev, and those from four patients responded to Esbriet. Eleven patients’ pulmospheres responded to both medications, and two did not respond to either.

The team confirmed the findings by following the patients.

“There is no cure for IPF, but there are two FDA-approved drugs that can help slow the rate of decline caused by the disease and improve quality of life,” Veena Antony, MD, the study’s primary investigator, said in a news release. “Not all patients respond to both drugs, and some don’t respond to either. Having a reliable clinical test that can predict which drug works best for which patient is urgently needed.”

Victor Thannickal, MD, a study co-author, called the findings “a wonderful example of precision medicine.”

“Using pulmospheres derived from a patient’s own cells may allow clinicians to tailor specific drugs to an individual patient without exposing that patient to potential side-effects or harm from treatments that are unlikely to be effective,” he said.

“There are many potential therapeutic agents for IPF in the discovery pipeline now, and this technique might prove to be a very effective way to determining which are the most promising,” Antony said.


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