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Artificial lungs and 'miracle' mice

31 August 2005
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 324

UK scientists have directed human embryonic stem cell (ES cells) to become lung cells, bringing the prospect of building lungs artificially for transplant surgery a step closer.

Scientists from Imperial College London, led by Dame Professor Julia Polak, caused ES cells to develop into mature small airway epithelium cells, which line the part of the lungs where oxygen is absorbed and carbon dioxide is excreted. The ES cells were grown in a series of solutions designed to coax them into becoming lung cells. It is thought this technology could be used to treat conditions such as acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) and, further in the future, to generate whole lungs for transplant - organs that are currently in short supply.  

Dr Anne Bishop of the Imperial College team, whose study is to be published in the journal Tissue Engineering, stated, 'although it will be some years before we are able to build actual human lungs for transplantation, this is a major step toward deriving cells that could be used to repair damaged lungs'.

In ARDS, the cells lining the part of the lungs where gas exchange takes place fall off. 'It has always been a huge challenge to replace the damaged air sacks in acute respiratory distress syndrome. Maybe these cells will be the beginning of something', commented Professor Stephen Spiro, respiratory medicine professor at University College London and a spokesman for the British Lung Foundation. However, he cautioned that the work is still in its early stages.

Meanwhile, researchers at the Wistar Institute, a biomedical research centre in the US, have created mice that can regenerate amputated limbs and badly damaged organs. The mice, from a strain known as MRL, were able to re-grow amputated toes and tails, and repair damage when portions of their hearts were frozen using a cryoprobe. What's more, when cells from the 'miracle mice' were injected into ordinary mice, the same healing abilities were conferred onto the ordinary mice.

Ellen Heber-Katz, professor of immunology at the Wistar Institute said, 'we have experimented with amputating or damaging several different organs, such as the heart, toes, tail and ears, and just watched them re-grow. It is quite remarkable. The only organ that did not grow back was the brain'. The initial discovery was made when she noticed that identification holes punched into the mouse ears healed without scarring.

The work will be presented at a conference on ageing called Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence at Cambridge University. It appears that the mouse's ability to regenerate damaged or lost organs is down to the function of about a dozen genes, genes that may exist in humans as well. If this is the case, it could mean that, in the future, it may be possible to give people the ability to regenerate or repair their lost or damaged organs.

Lung cells made in test tube may help transplants
The Independent |  24 August 2005
'Miracle mouse' can grow back lost limbs
The Sunday Times |  28 August 2005
Scientists Make First Step Towards Growing Human Lungs For Transplant
ScienceDaily |  24 August 2005
Stem cells used to grow lung cells |  24 August 2005
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