COPD as a lung stem cell disease

April 15, 2020

Two internationally renowned stem cell experts have found an abundance of abnormal stem cells in the lungs of patients who suffer from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), a leading cause of death worldwide. Frank McKeon, professor of biology and biochemistry and director of the Stem Cell Center, and Wa Xian, research associate professor at the center, used single cell cloning of lung stem cells to make their discovery. Now they are targeting the cells for new therapeutics.

"We actually found that three variant cells in all COPD patients drive all the key features of the disease. One produces tremendous amounts of mucins which block the small airways, while the other two drive fibrosis and inflammation which together degrade the function of the lung," Xian reports in the May 14 issue of the journal Cell. "These patients have normal stem cells, though not many of them, but they are dominated by the three variant cells that together make up the disease," she said.

COPD is a progressive inflammatory disease of the lungs marked by chronic bronchitis, small airway occlusion, inflammation, fibrosis and destruction of alveoli, tiny air sacs in the lungs which exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide molecules in the blood. The Global Burden of Disease Study reports 251 million cases of COPD globally in 2016.

"It's a frustrating disease to care for. We can try and improve the symptoms, but we don't have anything that can cure the disease or prevent death," said UConn Health pulmonologist and critical care doctor Mark Metersky, who gathered the stem cells from lung fluid while performing bronchoscopies.

Despite its accounting for more deaths than any single disease on the planet, relatively little has been written or understood about the root cause of COPD.

Over the past decade, Xian and McKeon developed technology for cloning stem cells of the lungs and airways and have been at it since, noting that different parts of the airways give different stem cells, related but distinguishable.

"It's quite remarkable," said McKeon. "In the deep lung, the distal airway stem cells gave rise to both the distal tubes and the alveoli and our research indicates those are the stem cells that make it possible for lungs to regenerate on their own." Xian and McKeon discovered lung regeneration in 2011 in their studies of subjects recovering from infections by an H1N1 influenza virus that was nearly identical to that which sparked the 1918 pandemic.

Xian and McKeon found that, in contrast to normal lungs, COPD lungs were inundated by three unusual variant lung stem cells that are committed to form metaplastic lesions known to inhabit COPD lungs, but seen by many as a secondary effect without a causal link to the pathology of COPD. After the team's postdoctoral fellow, Wei Rao, transplanted each of the COPD clones into immunodeficient subjects, the team found they not only gave rise to the distinct metaplastic lesions of COPD, but they separately triggered the triad of pathologies of COPD including mucus hypersecretion, fibrosis and chronic inflammation.

"The long-overlooked metaplastic lesions in COPD were, in fact, driving the disease rather than merely secondary consequences of the condition," said McKeon.

Now that the team knows the identity of the cells that cause inflammation, fibrosis and small airway obstruction, they are hard at work screening them against libraries of drug-like molecules to discover new therapeutics.

"As we now know the specific cells responsible for COPD pathology, we can target them, much as we would cancer, with specific drugs that selectively kill them off and leave the normal cells to regenerate normal lung tissue," said Xian.
-end-


University of Houston

Related Stem Cells Articles from Brightsurf:

SUTD researchers create heart cells from stem cells using 3D printing
SUTD researchers 3D printed a micro-scaled physical device to demonstrate a new level of control in the directed differentiation of stem cells, enhancing the production of cardiomyocytes.

More selective elimination of leukemia stem cells and blood stem cells
Hematopoietic stem cells from a healthy donor can help patients suffering from acute leukemia.

Computer simulations visualize how DNA is recognized to convert cells into stem cells
Researchers of the Hubrecht Institute (KNAW - The Netherlands) and the Max Planck Institute in Münster (Germany) have revealed how an essential protein helps to activate genomic DNA during the conversion of regular adult human cells into stem cells.

First events in stem cells becoming specialized cells needed for organ development
Cell biologists at the University of Toronto shed light on the very first step stem cells go through to turn into the specialized cells that make up organs.

Surprising research result: All immature cells can develop into stem cells
New sensational study conducted at the University of Copenhagen disproves traditional knowledge of stem cell development.

The development of brain stem cells into new nerve cells and why this can lead to cancer
Stem cells are true Jacks-of-all-trades of our bodies, as they can turn into the many different cell types of all organs.

Healthy blood stem cells have as many DNA mutations as leukemic cells
Researchers from the Princess Máxima Center for Pediatric Oncology have shown that the number of mutations in healthy and leukemic blood stem cells does not differ.

New method grows brain cells from stem cells quickly and efficiently
Researchers at Lund University in Sweden have developed a faster method to generate functional brain cells, called astrocytes, from embryonic stem cells.

NUS researchers confine mature cells to turn them into stem cells
Recent research led by Professor G.V. Shivashankar of the Mechanobiology Institute at the National University of Singapore and the FIRC Institute of Molecular Oncology in Italy, has revealed that mature cells can be reprogrammed into re-deployable stem cells without direct genetic modification -- by confining them to a defined geometric space for an extended period of time.

Researchers develop a new method for turning skin cells into pluripotent stem cells
Researchers at the University of Helsinki, Finland, and Karolinska Institutet, Sweden, have for the first time succeeded in converting human skin cells into pluripotent stem cells by activating the cell's own genes.

Read More: Stem Cells News and Stem Cells Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.