Study points to possible cell-based lung therapy to help premature babies breathe easier

Researchers are reporting the discovery of a possible cell-based therapy that could help stimulate lung development in premature infants with a rare disorder called bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD), a condition that can lead to lifelong breathing problems and even death. The proposed treatment involves giving babies certain cells called c-KIT-positive endothelial progenitor cells, which are commonplace in neonatal lungs and aid in the formation of capillaries and air sacs in the lungs.

Studies show that the developing lung cells of premature infants are easily destroyed by high oxygen concentrations that occur when these babies are on oxygen therapy. In the new study, researchers used RNA sequencing analysis to explore the genetic signatures of donated human neonatal lungs and performed extensive laboratory tests on mouse models of BPD. The researchers then conducted tests using c-KIT-positive endothelial progenitor cells to treat neonatal mice that had been exposed to high levels of oxygen in order to model BPD. They showed that these cells increased the formation of lung blood vessels and air sacs in the animals.

The researchers noted that their cell-based therapy has yet to undergo clinical testing. The study, which was funded by NHLBI, appeared in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. It was developed using data from LungMAP, a program funded by the NHLBI that seeks to create the first molecular atlas of the developing human lung in an effort to speed the development of new treatments for lung diseases.

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