A Breath of Fresh Air: Repairing COPD Damages with Patients’ Own Lung Cells
By Lauren Amphlett

Last updated on November 6th, 2023 at 01:25 pm

In a remarkable advancement towards treating Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), scientists have, for the first time, demonstrated the potential of repairing damaged lung tissue using patients’ own lung cells. This breakthrough was unveiled at the European Respiratory Society International Congress held in Milan, Italy, where results from a pioneering phase I clinical trial were shared.

COPD causes progressive damage to lung tissue, significantly impacting the quality of life for patients. The disease, claiming roughly three million lives globally each year, has been historically challenging to treat. Current treatments mainly focus on alleviating symptoms through bronchodilators, which widen the airways to enhance airflow but fail to repair the damaged tissue.

The search for a more definitive treatment led researchers to explore the realms of stem cell and progenitor cell-based regenerative medicine. Stem cells are known for their ability to morph into any cell type. Unlike stem cells, progenitor cells can only turn into certain types of cells related to a specific area or tissue. For example, a progenitor cell in the lung can turn into different types of lung cells but not into heart cells or liver cells. Among the researchers is Professor Wei Zuo from Tongji University, Shanghai, and his team at Regend Therapeutics Ltd, who have been investigating a specific type of progenitor cell known as P63+ lung progenitor cells.

The phase I clinical trial initiated by Professor Zuo and his colleagues aimed to assess the safety and efficacy of transplanting P63+ progenitor cells, harvested and expanded from the patients’ own lungs, back into the patients.

20 COPD patients were enrolled in the trial, 17 of whom received the cell treatment, while three served as the control group. The results were encouraging; treated patients exhibited improved lung function, were able to walk further, and reported better quality of life post-treatment.

In particular, after 12 weeks of treatment, there was a notable increase in the diffusing capacity of the lungs, a metric indicating the efficiency of gas exchange between the lungs and the bloodstream. Furthermore, the median distance covered in a six-minute walk distance test increased, along with a drop in the median score in St George’s Respiratory Questionnaire (SGRQ), suggesting an improved quality of life.

The groundbreaking results also highlighted the potential of this treatment in repairing lung damage in patients with mild emphysema, a condition generally considered irreversible and progressive.

Endorsed by China’s National Medical Products Administration (NMPA), a phase II clinical trial is in the pipeline to validate the efficacy of P63+ progenitor cell transplantation in a larger cohort of COPD patients. Concurrently, a similar therapeutic strategy is being tested for lethal lung fibrotic diseases, including idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

This innovation could significantly shift the COPD treatment paradigm. As Professor Omar Usmani of Imperial College London remarked, the positive outcomes from this phase I trial, if validated in subsequent trials, could be “very exciting” for the future of COPD treatment. However, he further investigation is necessary. 

The road ahead appears promising, with the potential to not only alleviate the debilitating symptoms of COPD but to repair the damage it inflicts on the lungs, offering hope to millions suffering from this chronic respiratory disease.

You can read the full article here: https://www.ersnet.org/news-and-features/news/transplanting-patients-own-lung-cells-offers-hope-of-cure-for-copd/


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