New Lung Stem Cells Discovered!

A recent study by a group of researchers led by Dr. Brigitte Gomperts from the University of California, San Francisco, has discovered a set of new stem cells in the airways of the lungs that aid in the repair mechanism.

These stem cells were named “sub-mucosal gland duct stem cells” by Ahmed Hegab, a team member, as they were discovered in the mucus secreting ducts in the upper airway of lungs.

The upper airway of lungs produces mucus secreted by specialized mucus glands. Mucus production and removal is a protective mechanism against the environmental toxins and infections that enter the body when we breathe.

But in respiratory diseases such as asthma, cystic fibrosis and COPD or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, the mucus is produced in excess quantities and currently there are no treatments available to remove this excess mucus.

According to Dr. Gomperts, if the underlying mechanism through which these newly discovered stem cells repair the mucus glands is understood, then the over-production of mucus can be prevented by putting brakes on the mucus producing glands.

She also opines that these cells help in studying and understanding the mechanisms of the upper airway diseases.

The group created an upper airway model to identify the presence of these stem cells and isolate them. Once isolated the stem cells were able to replicate and regenerate themselves.

Moreover, the differentiation capability of these lung stem cells into surface epithelial cells and mucus gland cells was tested and the team confirmed that these cells can indeed differentiate.

This was confirmed in model systems that were lacking in mucus glands and surface epithelium. The isolated stem cells with the help of other cell types differentiated into mucus cells and repaired the surface barrier.

This new discovery which can help in understanding the mechanism through which the stem cells repair mucus glands can help in finding a way to prevent excess mucus production.

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