Hoping to further understand cystic fibrosis — a disease that affects 70,000 people globally — scientists have moved away from animal testing and started creating their own versions of CF lungs to study.
Developed by researchers at the University of Cambridge, the team took skin cells from CF patients to create the distal portion — the part that causes patients distress — of the lung. Researchers are confident that not only is testing treatment on cell-created lungs more humane, but also more useful.
"This is far more practical, should provide more reliable data and is also more ethical than using large numbers of mice for such research," said Dr. Nick Hannan in a press release.
Caused by a single gene mutation, this hereditary disease causes lungs to become filled with mucus, causing respiratory problems and long-term bacterial infections. There is no currently no cure for cystic fibrosis and despite medical advances, the average life expectancy for those with the disease is around 30 years old, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
It’s not the first time stem cells have been used to make “organoids,” with brains and livers developed to study Alzheimer’s disease and liver disease.
Hannan thinks the CF study is only the beginning of this type of research: “We’re confident this process could be scaled up to enable us to screen tens of thousands of compounds and develop mini-lungs with other diseases such as lung cancer and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.”
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