I recently wrote about genetic markers and mutations in some diseases of the lungs. Many of you have heard of stem cells but may not be sure what they are. These are cells that are able to grow into the cells associated with any organ of the body under the right conditions. Up until recently scientists were unable to get stem cells to grow into lung and airway cells. This problem has now been solved and it could point the way to study diseases and therapies for many lung problems.
Here is a good example of how we may be able touse stem cell in pulmonary fibrosis (a scarring disease of the lungs). We may be able to make stem cells from the skin of patients with pulmonary fibrosis and make them grow into lung tissue cells. We can then study them next to cells from patients without the disease to find the differences and, hopefully, a way of curing this disease. This same process could be used for patients with cystic fibrosis. These patients are young and finding a cure, or at least a therapy that can significantly modify the disease, would be groundbreaking. Utilizing this stem cell process we could test drugs against these diseases and others.
There is even the potential to grow lungs that are exact genetic replicas of a patient that needs a lung transplant . There would be no need for anti-rejection drugs. These are very appealing ideas and are a long way off, but a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.