Scientists create prototype of airway cells to advance lung disorder research

A 3-D rendering shows the anatomy of the lungs and human respiratory tract.

A study in Cell Stem Cell details a proof-of-concept model that may help personalize lung disorder research. The research team, which consisted of 27 scientists from several universities and medical centers, adopted a two-step approach to reproduce cells that line the airways.

First, the scientists studied the DNA and growth of human airway cells and replicated these models in the lab. The cells, which mimic airway function, allowed the scientists to model occurrences in acquired and inherited conditions, including mucus production in asthma and cilia patterns to trap bacteria in primary ciliary dyskinesia (PCD). PCD is a rare condition that affects 1 in 16,000 people and leads to chronic respiratory tract infections.

After creating the airway cells, the researchers inserted the models into the airways of rats for a functional utility test. The cells regenerated. The team envisions the lab-produced airway cells, which are easy to scale and share, may serve as a foundational research tool to enhance the understanding of a variety of airway-related conditions, including cystic fibrosis.

The study was partially funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.