Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is one of a long list of diseases that may be impacted by stem cells. A number of studies have suggested that mesenchymal stem cells may protect against the lung damage associated with COPD, but they have not been able to explain how the cells may achieve such protection.
Understanding the mechanism by which stem cells offer therapeutic value is critical for developing effective therapies that can help patients. As such, researchers from London and Hong Kong undertook a collaborative study to investigate how stem cells may protect the lungs of those with COPD. Their results were recently published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.
The researchers hypothesized that stem cells may work by reducing the damage that mitochondria endure in COPD. Mitochondria are the cell’s energy source and are damaged through a process known as oxidative stress, which occurs when the cells are exposed to free radicals. In COPD, when oxidative stress damages mitochondria, the lungs often become inflamed, resulting in the death of lung cells.
To test their hypothesis, the scientists looked at the effect of induced pluripotent stem cell-derived mesenchymal stem cells on airway smooth muscle cells. Consistent with their hypothesis, they found that the presence of the stem cells reduced mitochondrial damage caused by oxidative stress. The stem cells also reduced the amount of cellular death.
While more research is needed to determine how exactly stem cells can be used to treat patients with COPD, the finding that stem cells can prevent damage to lung tissue is promising. Now that researchers have also helped clarify how these cells are able to prevent such damage, they are equipped with information that could help them optimize any cell-based therapies that are developed for COPD.