Lung Stem Cells Close to Treating IPF, Other Lung Fibrosis Diseases, Say N.C. Researchers

Lung Stem Cells Close to Treating IPF, Other Lung Fibrosis Diseases, Say N.C. Researchers

Researchers at two universities in North Carolina have developed a new method to expand stem cells isolated from patient’s lung biopsies.

A team led by Dr. Jason Lobo, assistant professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina (UNC), and by Ke Cheng, associate professor in the Department of Molecular Biomedical Sciences at North Carolina State University (NCSU), previously found that lung stem cells could potentially treat mice with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF).

With their new cell expansion method, stem cell therapy for fibrotic lung patients comes closer to reality, finds their study, “Derivation of therapeutic lung spheroid cells from minimally invasive transbronchial pulmonary biopsies,” in the journal Respiratory Research.

The researchers and their teams are now talking to officials at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They plan an initial clinical trial to test the therapeutic potential of this approach among a small group of IPF patients.

“This is the first time anyone has generated potentially therapeutic lung stem cells from minimally invasive biopsy specimens,” Lobo said in a news release.

Despite extensive research, only Esbriet (pirfenidone) and Ofev (nintedanib) have won FDA approval to treat IPF. Yet they only relieve IPF’s symptoms; they do not solve the underlying cause of the disease itself. Researchers have been studying stem cells as one possible therapy.

Cheng and Lobo have been studying a particular subset of stem cells called lung spheroid cells, which apparently have regenerative properties, as well as anti-fibrosis and anti-inflammatory effects, in animal models of IPF. Such cells also have a better therapeutic response than mesenchymal stem cells, which have been the focus of potential fibrosis treatment in several studies.

The UNC/NCSU team says that through a relatively non-invasive procedure called a transbronchial biopsy, it is possible to obtain these lung spheroid cells from patients with lung diseases.

“We snip tiny, seed-sized samples of airway tissue using a bronchoscope,” Lobo said. “This method involves far less risk to the patient than does a standard, chest-penetrating surgical biopsy of lung tissue.”

By culturing these cells in the lab using a three-dimensional method they created, the team was able to expand the cells into an amount sufficient for treatment. When tested in mice, these human stem cells would accumulate in the animals’ lungs.

“These cells are from the lung, and so in a sense they’re happiest, so to speak, living and working in the lung,” said Cheng.

Added Lobo: “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. 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.”

Lobo and Chen hope that in the long run, their lung stem cell therapy can be widely used to treat patients with fibrotic diseases, either by collecting lung spheroid stem cells from the patient or from a healthy donor.

“Our vision is that we will eventually set up a universal cell donor bank,” Cheng said.


  1. Pauline Sizemore says:

    Wow, I’ve been improving a little on over but the greatest gift for me would be that the method is approved for any and all IPF patients. Halejulia!

  2. Darrell Weber says:

    I would like to volunteer for any testing of this new and promising procedure. I am recently diagnosed with IPF and live in Clayton, NC.

  3. Terri says:

    Just learned my lungs are about shot from COPD and PF.I am 60 old and have been reccommended for transplant but sure would love to try stem cells first..less risk.

  4. Ed says:

    theres a place in Scottsdale Arizona that is doing stem cell research as we speak,..also in Tampa Florida and also in Newport Beach california!..theres also other places,google stem cell research centers and a list should pop up where to go!…god bless you all and keep up the good fight,..hang in there!…vape and eat cannabis

    • Joyce Douglas says:

      I tried Hemp oil last week for 4 days, and while my mental attitude and outlook were great my breathing didn’t improve – in fact it was reduced to the point of breathlessness and of pain in muscles that were lacking on oxygen cause my lungs were too relaxed to export enough oxygen to them. Sad trial for me. I had hoped this would help.

  5. Steve Linke says:

    With PF or IPF, watch out for heavy treatment w steroids which cause acute exacerbation of PF. This is especially critical in the pulmonitis” stage, “resolving” into scar tissue. We thought that resolving was a good thing but it was the beginning of PF. And multiple steroid treatments, sledpecially in the emergency room, “acutely exacerbated” it. RIP Dorothy. July 2017.

    • Jennifer says:

      My mom has recently been diagnosed with hypersensitivity pneumonitis
      Is this the same ? She has little fibrosis and has just been put on steroids

  6. Cheryl says:

    I have IPF, was dx’d 4 years ago. I am on O2 6.5L at rest and 9L nasal canula + 8L mask on ambulation. I have been on Predinsone 15mg for nearly 3 years. That is the only thing I take. I would love to be in this clinical trial. I live in western NC. Thank you!

  7. 강민성 says:

    I’m living in Korea.
    I would like to participate in clinical practice.
    My father has idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis
    I am suffering.
    Opportunities to participate in clinical practice
    Thank you very much.

    • Alice Melão says:

      You can look for trials according to country and disease on the registry website On this website you can find all information regarding location, contacts, eligibility, and information on trial design and overall protocol. I hope this can help you.

  8. Marian Verhesen says:

    Please contact me if there are any trials starting on IPF, my father was just diagnosed. Writing from Canada and no problem to travel. And thank you Alice I will try that avenue as well.

    • Peggy D Rogers says:

      Its been 2 years since this article came out. Where are the clinical trials for these stem cells! China has done clinical trials with these lung stem cells. I’m willing to bet it’s the fda!

  9. Good question for PF Foundation to address the FDA US as it has the same protocols and guidelines as FDA China. Chinese trials have shown great improvement in IPF using similar technique. Let’s save some lives FDA US and make it a first priority. How would your family react in this situation??

  10. Guys it’ll take years before this goes to clinical trials. They have to get approval for the trials from the FDA Its sad that China has already had trials with lung stem cells. People will die waiting for this therapy. It’s been 3 years since this article! No trials at all!

  11. Guys,
    It’s been 3 years since this article was published on the lung stem cells! It’s so sad that China has clinical trials right now. But the hold up is the dear old federal drug agency. It’ll be another year or so before any clinical trials. Patients will die waiting on this miraculous therapy. I’m going to try getting into the China trial.

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