Professor Yuben Moodley Explains: What is Lung Regeneration?

Chronic lung diseases, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, lung cancer, and pulmonary fibrosis, are a leading cause of death globally. End-stage lung disease, such as COPD, is currently treated with various medications or lung transplantation. Here, professor Yuben Moodley discusses lung regeneration as an alternative to lung transplantation in patients when a donor lung tissue is not available.

Now is an exciting time in the area of lung regeneration research. Studies have shown that the respiratory system has an extensive ability to respond to injury and regenerate lost or damaged cells. Several promising technologies have emerged over the past couple of years that could potentially cure several lung diseases. Researchers believe that these technologies indicate that lung regeneration has the potential to become a clinical reality. They are optimistic that medical science may enable doctors to take cells from a patient and employ tools like decellularized matrices to repopulate a lung matrix and build an artificial or new lung for someone needing an implant.

Only four or five years ago, the idea of lung regeneration was science fiction. Today the advancement of technology has made building new lungs artificially an inherent reality.

Researchers worldwide are studying lung decellularization and recellularization techniques. These studies involve removing all the cells from a donor’s lung, leaving behind just the native architecture that can be repopulated with induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells acquired from the patient’s tissues.

In an effort to learn how to effectively and consistently produce patient-specific iPS cells for lung-related clinical use, researchers have conducted clinical trials in which iPS cells are generated from small skin biopsies taken from a patient with end-stage lung disease.

Investigators believe that iPS cells could be differentiated into patient-specific pulmonary epithelial cells and delivered back to patients via cell therapy with further research. Additionally, these cells could be used to repopulate acellular lung scaffolds for implantation.

In Australia alone, there are thousands of patients that have end-stage lung disease. Many of these people are not suitable candidates for lung transplantation or other potential therapies. It is estimated that 8,641 people will die from lung cancer in 2020. The potential to build new lung tissue, whether an entire lung, parts of a lung, or improve a lung’s efficiency would be life-altering for these people.

While it is an exciting time for this area of research, there is still much work to be done. Translating these new promising technologies into proper patient care will take time and resources. Still, the future is bright, and there is reason to be hopeful that what was once only a dream may someday become a reality.

About Yuben Moodley

Yuben Moodley is a dedicated physician, researcher, and Deputy Director of the Institute of Respiratory Health. His research focuses on investigating mechanisms and finding novel cellular therapies for Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. He serves on the National Health and Medical Research Council panel, where he got funding for his research.