31 October 2011

Researchers Look into Lung Regeneration

Researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College are looking into the possibility that humans can be able to regenerate their own lungs.

In the journal Cell, the scientists have reported that they uncovered the biochemical signals in mice that trigger generation of new lung cells. The cells called, alveoli, are the tiny, grape-like sacs within the lung where oxygen exchange takes place. The biochemical signal have been specifically pinpointed to originate from the endothelial cells that are found lining the interior of blood vessels in the lung.

Mice have been long been known to regenerate and expand the capacity of its lung when needed, the researchers have identified the biological signal that activates this and hopes that this can help in duplicating this process with humans.

Dr. Shahin Rafii is the Arthur B. Belfer Professor of Genetic Medicine and co-director of the Ansary Stem Cell Institute at Weill Cornell Medical College. He says, "Several adult human organs have the potential upon injury to regenerate to a degree, and while we can readily monitor the pathways involved in the regeneration of liver and bone marrow, it is much more cumbersome to study the regeneration of other adult organs, such as the lung and heart..."

Video: How biochemical signals are transmitted to a cell in the human body

Dr. Rafi adds, "It is speculated, but not proven, that humans have the potential to regenerate their lung alveoli until they can't anymore, due to smoking, cancer, or other extensive chronic damage. Our hope is to take these findings into the clinic and see if we can induce lung regeneration in patients who need it, such as those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)."

Independent of this, scientists have also managed to grow alveoli cells from stem cells. Although still in the experimental stage, studies into lung regeneration can lead to other things. Stem cells are cells that can be made into other types of cells.

We may be looking at a world where injuries can be treated by regenerating the affected organ.

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