Monday, 8 October 2012

Human Lung Regrowth - Is It Possible?

Mouse lung tissue regrowing after 'flu
There are many groups of patients with respiratory disease (including aspergillosis) who have severely damaged lungs, the worst affected of whom are dependent on a lung transplant for long term recovery. Even for those least effected by lung damage replacement of damaged lung tissue could greatly improve their quality of life.

Recent research has found stem cells capable of regrowing lung tissue - something I mentioned in a talk I gave to our Patients support group and the National Aspergillosisi Centre, UK. Boston University has a research group led by Dr Darrell Kotton which demonstrated convincingly that lung tissue could be rebuilt and regrown in a mouse experimental model system, opening the way for many more researchers to work on how to get this to happen in humans.

When reporting on this work in an earlier blog we noted that some of the results suggested that our lungs may contain 'natural' stem cells which were capable of carrying out lung tissue repair without any intervention by doctors - in other words our own lungs had some capacity to repair themselves. This sounds absurd, after all if this were possible why would we have illnesses such as tuberculosis and chronic pulmonary aspergillosis where there are large areas of lung that are completely destroyed and never seem to recover?

However - absurd as it might be there is now solid evidence that in one case at least, regeneration of lung tissue has been precisely tracked and recorded. The authors of this paper in the New England Journal of Medicine describe a patients losing a large part of their lung as part of their treatment for lung cancer. Lung capacity was not surprisingly markedly reduced, but more surprisingly over the next 15 years a steady increase in capacity was noticed.
CT scans showed an increase in the size of the lung and careful testing with an MRI scanner revealed evidence for an increase in the number of lung alveoli - the lung was literally growing back!

Although not a common event this case proves unequivically that lung tissue can grow back once damaged.  Further research is needed to detect why this happened in this patient in the hope of making it a more common event but the potential is clearly there.

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