A Columbia University Medical Center team has created a three-dimensional structure similar to a lung to help scientists do a better job of studying respiratory diseases, according to a study.
They cultured stem cells in a lab, then stimulated them so they would transform into lung cells. The team calls the structure a lung organoid.
The study, “A three-dimensional model of human lung development and disease from pluripotent stem cells,” was published in the journal Nature Cell Biology.
The model not only allows researchers to study several facets of lung disease but also to test therapies that could regenerate damaged tissue.
“Researchers have taken up the challenge of creating organoids to help us understand and treat a variety of diseases,” Dr. Hans-Willem Snoeck, the study’s senior author, said in a news release. “But we have been tested by our limited ability to create organoids that can replicate key features of human disease.”
The team’s lung organoid consists of three-dimensional structures that resemble the lungs’ air sacs, or alveoli. Using a 3D structure rather than the flat structure of most cultures lets the researchers do a better job of studying genetic mutations’ impact on the lungs and the effects of lung-disease treatments.
There is a shortcoming, however. The model allows the team to study only what happens in cells, not the lung as an interactive system.
The researchers infected the model’s cells with a respiratory syncytial virus, a major cause of lower respiratory tract infection in infants that has no known treatment. The virus led to swelling, detachment and shedding of the organoid’s cells, similar to what happens in real lungs.
Later the team introduced a mutation of the HPS1 gene, which causes an early-onset form of pulmonary fibrosis, to the model. As in humans, it triggered an accumulation of the extracellular matrix and mesenchymal cells associated with lung disease.
The results supported the notion that an organoid can be used to create lung fibrosis in a lab, giving researchers a useful way to work on lung 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,” Snoeck concluded.