Stem cells show potential to repair lungs in mice
( Reuters ) - British researchers have successfully implanted lung cells grown from embryonic stem cells into the lungs of mice in a move that may one day provide treatments for humans with severe breathing problems.
Until now, stem cells have been seen as a promising avenue for conditions like diabetes and Parkinson's disease, but respiratory ailments have not featured because of the highly complex nature of lung tissue.
Sile Lane of Imperial College, London, said the new research was a significant advance, although it would be many years before the technology was ready for testing on people.
"Our study shows that embryonic stem cells really do have the capacity to recolonize damaged lungs," she said.
Lane told the European Respiratory Society annual congress in Stockholm that cells injected into the tail veins of mice successfully migrated to the lungs within two days, with no sign of spread to other organs.
If a similar technique works using human embryonic stem cells, it might eventually offer an alternative to difficult and costly lung transplants, as well as helping patients with serious lung damage caused by disease or accident.
Scientists will not be rushing into the clinic, however.
"Stem cells are controversial and they haven't yet been proved safe, so we don't yet know what might happen if we put them into people," Lane said in a telephone interview.