Laboratory Mini-lung That Mimics Features of Real Lung May Speed Research and Treatments

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by Kara Elam |

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Laboratory mini-lung

New York scientists have created a mini-lung in a laboratory that mimics a real lung’s response to a viral infection in pulmonary fibrosis.

The mini-lung, which scientists call an organoid, will increase understanding of lung diseases,  leading to better treatments, the researchers said. Dr. Hans-Willem Snoeck, a professor at Columbia University Medical Center, led the team that developed the organoid.

An article about creating it, titled “A three-dimensional model of human lung development and disease from pluripotent stem cells,” was published in the journal Nature Cell Biology.  

Organoids are tiny 3-D structures of human organs. In this case they were grown from human pluripotent stem cells, which can give rise to any type of fully developed cell in the body.

When the Columbia scientists transformed stem cells into lung cells, they decided on an organoid format for the lung cells. That’s because its 3-D structure would mimic a real lung’s response to a virus or a genetic mutation that leads to the scarring seen in idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and other lung diseases.

A virus prompted the organoid to swell and shed infected cells to the mini-lung’s lumens, or space inside airways — the same way a real lung would react.

Then scientists introduced the genetic mutation HPS1, which causes tissue scarring, to the mini-lung. The mutation led to an accumulation of extracellular matrix and mesenchymal cells, which are  responsible for scarring in real lungs.

The researchers’ discovery that lung organoids do a better job than non-three-dimensional lab structures in mimicking the physiology and pathology of lung diseases has important research implications. The model should make research more efficient and successful.

“Researchers have taken up the challenge of creating organoids to help us understand and treat a variety of diseases,” Snoeck said in a press release. “But we have been tested by our limited ability to create organoids that can replicate key features of human disease. Organoids created with human pluripotent or genome-edited embryonic stem cells may be the best, and perhaps only, way to gain insight into the pathogenesis of these diseases.”

To watch a brief video about the development of the lung organoids, visit this link.