Miniature Lung Tissue Grown From Stem Cells

Researchers have succeeded in building 3-D lung 'organoids' using tiny gel beads coated with stem cells

Many research teams across the world are attempting to grow personalised organs in the laboratory. These efforts have led to a 'rise of the organoids'; tiny 3-D replicas of specific organ tissue grown in the lab. These have a range of possible uses, from drug testing to disease research and perhaps eventually the creation of replacement entire organs. 

Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF)

IPF is a chronic lung disease, involving a progressive scarring of the lungs leading to poor lung function and commonly death after 3-5 years of the diagnosis. It appears to have some familial inheritance, but other factors such as cigarette smoke can also increase risk of the disease. We still don't know exactly what causes the deadly condition however. 

While scientists have already formed 2-D lung tissue in a dish, this appears healthy even when formed from cells taken from IPF patients. This means researchers have not been able to correctly model the disease, in an effort to understand it and develop novel therapeutics. 

“The technique is very simple. We can make thousands of reproducible pieces of tissue that resemble lung and contain patient-specific cells. This is the basis for precision medicine and personalized treatments

The engineered lung tissue can be seen on the left, contrasted with real lung tissue on the right. Credit: UCLA Broad Stem Cell Research Center

A new approach

In a change of tactics, UCLA researchers coated small hydrogel beads with lung derived stem cells - each positioned in 7 mm wells. This led to an even distribution of cell growth and differentiation, mimicking the structure of real lung tissue. Furthermore, when these tissues were exposed to particular factors they began to show the characteristic scarring present in IPF; something that had not been possible with flat tissue culture. 

The technique is comparatively easy and fast, making it an ideal solution for growing multiple organoids for drug testing. This type of structural assistance appears to aid organ tissue formation in a number of different organs. 

Read more at UCLA Newsroom