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Airway model developed to study viral lung infections

28 June 2021
Appeared in BioNews 1101

Stem cell models may help investigate COVID-19 and other lung diseases.  

Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) – adult stem cells that can be programmed to make other cells – have been used to make models of human upper airways. The models, which behave similar to human airways, could be used to investigate the effects of coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) and other respiratory diseases.

'Our protocol not only simplifies the manufacture of cellular models of the human upper airways, but it has a distinct advantage in that we have eliminated the need for primary samples that differ in genetic backgrounds' said Professor Lyle Armstrong, corresponding author, from Newcastle University.   

Epithelial cell models that mimic human airways have been successful previously, but were limited as samples were from various donors. Therefore, they had different genetic backgrounds. In this paper, published in Stem Cell, iPSCs generated an unlimited number of respiratory cells with the same genetic background as they were from a single donor, removing the limitation of the previous models.  

The new model had cilia (hair-like structures found in airways) and cells that could secrete mucus. Moreover, when infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus behaved as it would in humans: invading cells and stimulating production of cells associated with an immune response. Both features successfully mimic the human airway, which makes the model a good tool for research.

'The development of this reproducible and highly scalable protocol to manufacture upper airway models is very important for the study of respiratory viral infections such as SARS-CoV-2 and others' noted Dr Jan Nolta, editor-in-chief of Stem Cells.    

The ability of iPSCs to self-renew leads to the generation of a large number of cells, which makes these airway models cost-effective. The models can be used to expand research of airway diseases, in particular to develop therapies, investigate respiratory diseases and the toxicity of certain substances.

'Our next step will be to expand on this model by including immune cell components.' said Professor Armstrong.

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SARS-CoV-2 infects an upper airway model derived from induced pluripotent stem cells
Stem Cells |  21 June 2021
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