Novel stem cell isolation method offers hope for lung disease

Written by Adam Price-Evans

Researchers develop non-invasive technique for lung stem cell isolation that could lead to therapy for inflammatory lung conditions such as cystic fibrosis

A team of researchers led by Ke Cheng (North Carolina State University, NC, USA) and Leonard J. Lobo (University of North Carolina, NC, USA) have demonstrated that lung spheroid cells (LSCs) can be derived from transbronchial lung biopsies using a 3D culture technique. This minimally invasive technique holds promise for the future treatment of lung conditions including idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and cystic fibrosis.

Due to the regenerative capabilities of lung tissue, cell-based therapy for lung disease using resident lung stem/progenitor cells offers great potential. The group previously demonstrated the regenerative properties of LSCs in a mouse model of lung fibrosis, which outperformed mesenchymal stem cells in mitigating the disease state.

Isolation and culture of this lung tissue from patients remains a challenge, however, and current biopsy techniques are associated with a high risk of mortality. In a recent study, the researchers demonstrated that transbronchial lung biopsy could be utilized to noninvasively harvest human LSCs which could then be cultured to yield a sufficient number of cells for human therapy.

In a follow up study, the team successfully treated a rat model of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis with the cultured LSCs which resulted in reduced lung inflammation and scarring, compared to control animals.

“The treatment was safe and effective whether the lung spheroid cells were derived from the recipients’ own lungs or from the lungs of an unrelated strain of rats,” stated Lobo. “In other words, even if the donated stem cells were ‘foreign,’ they did not provoke a harmful immune reaction in the recipient animals, as transplanted tissue normally does.”

These finding suggests that in the future, doctors could potentially harvest LSCs from a number of sources including healthy volunteers or donated whole lungs, which could then be expanded and used to treat patients with pulmonary fibrosis.


Dinh PC, Cores J, Hensley MT et al. Derivation of therapeutic lung spheroid cells from minimally invasive transbronchial pulmonary biopsies. Respir. Res. 18(1), 132 (2017); Cores J, Hensley MT, Kinlaw K et al. Safety and efficacy of allogeneic lung spheroid cells in a mismatched rat model of pulmonary fibrosis. Stem Cells Transl. Med. doi: 10.1002/sctm.16-0374 (2017) [Epub ahead of print];