A team of researchers has created three-dimensional lung “organoids” — laboratory-grown lung-like tissue — to study diseases, including idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. The three dimensional drug has been created by coating tiny gel beads with lung-derived stem cells and allowing them to self-assemble into the shape of air sacs found in human lungs.
“While we haven’t built a fully functional lung, we have been able to take lung cells and place them in the correct geometrical spacing and pattern to mimic a human lung,” said Brigitte Gomperts, Associate Professor, at the University of California, at Los Angeles in the US.
Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis is a chronic lung disease characterised by scarring of the lungs. The scarring makes the lungs thick and stiff, which over time results in progressively worsening shortness of breath and lack of oxygen to the brain and vital organs.
To study the effect of genetic mutations or drugs on lung cells, researchers have previously relied on two-dimensional cultures of the cells. But when they take cells from people with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and grow them on these flat cultures, the cells appear healthy.
Gomperts and her colleagues, in the study published in the journal Stem Cells Translational Medicine, started with stem cells created using cells from adult lungs. They used those cells to coat sticky hydrogel beads and then they partitioned these beads into small wells, each only seven millimetres across.
Inside each well, the lung cells grew around the beads, which linked them and formed an evenly distributed three-dimensional pattern. To show that these tiny organoids mimicked the structure of actual lungs, the researchers compared the lab-grown tissues with real sections of human lung.
“The technique is very simple. We can make thousands of reproducible pieces of tissue that resemble lung and contain patient-specific cells,” said Dan Wilkinson, researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Moreover, when the researchers added certain molecular factors to the 3D cultures, the lungs developed scars similar to those seen in the lungs of people who have idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis — something that could not be accomplished using two-dimensional cultures of these cells.