UC San Diego Research Team Awarded Funds to Investigate Stem Cell-based Therapy for Pulmonary Fibrosis

Ana Pena, PhD avatar

by Ana Pena, PhD |

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New Innovator Award

A team of researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine was recently granted $865,282 from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) to investigate a stem cell therapy for pulmonary fibrosis.

CIRM awarded two grants worth a total of more than $2.2 million to support researchers at UC San Diego pursuing the use of stem cell-based therapies to treat pulmonary fibrosis and a rare genetic heart disorder called Danon disease, according to a UC San Diego Health press release.

James Hagood, MD, pediatric pulmonologist and chief of pediatric respiratory medicine at Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego, is leading the project on stem cell therapy for pulmonary fibrosis.

Current therapies for pulmonary fibrosis can help manage the disease’s symptoms, such as shortness of breath, dry cough, and fatigue, but cannot repair the lung scarring that marks the disease.

Hagood’s team wants to explore the use of components, called extracellular vesicles, released by mesenchymal stem cells as a therapy to slow or reverse fibrosis. Their goal is to better understand how these vesicles work, and if they can be modified to increase their anti-scarring activity to treat pulmonary fibrosis.

Join the PF forums: an online community for patients and caregivers living with Pulmonary Fibrosis.

Mesenchymal stem cells are able to self-renew and grow into a variety of cell types, from bone and cartilage to muscle and fat. Due to this, these cells have gained attention in the field of regenerative medicine, as well as for their ability to release soluble factors and extracellular vesicles — membrane-surrounded structures that can exchange information, such as proteins and genetic material, between cells.

Several studies have suggested that extracellular vesicles released by mesenchymal stem cells (MSC-EV) mediate the therapeutic potential of mesenchymal stem cell-based therapies.

These vesicles have shown an ability to reduce inflammation, fibrosis, and cell death, aiding in tissue regeneration in several models of kidney, liver, cardiovascular, and neurological diseases.

In addition,  MSC-EVs are advantageous because they are easier to manage and safer than therapies requiring the direct administration of cells.

Due to their potential, some MSC-EVs are already entering clinical trials for a number of diseases.

This initiative is another step in CIRM’s mission to accelerate stem cell research and treatments. The institute has awarded more than $215 million to UC San Diego since 2004. An integral part of this effort was the establishment of the CIRM Alpha Stem Cell Clinic at UC San Diego Health dedicated to early phase, first-in-human stem cell trials.