Is Lung Tissue Regeneration Possible?
An interesting article in the New England Journal of Medicine by Kajstura et al. suggests that through stem cell use, lung tissue may be reproduced in the human body. So far, experiments have only been attempted in mice, but the indications are that it may be applicable to humans, too. Essentially, healthy mice were given injury to one lung. Stem cells were introduced, and the lungs were re-evaluated 14 days later. Surprisingly, the stem cells had begun to regenerate lung tissue as it was needed, in all parts of the lung that were damaged.
While no one is suggesting we are at a point that stem cells can be used on humans, it is exciting to think that the future of chronic lung conditions, such as COPD, may be affected by these findings. Lung tissue infused with stem cells appears to have the ability to organize into respiratory units in vivo. This finding alone makes it worthwhile to do more studies, and eventually human experimentation. Imagine the difference in the life of someone with COPD if the studies find that airways can reproduce themselves given the right environment!
Medical advances are happening all around us, and at break-neck speed. It can be difficult to sit through a reading of medical journals, but once in a while an article sticks out, such as this one. The possibilities of such a discovery are too broad in scope and the potential gains are too big to be ignored.
In my opinion, whether or not you are for stem cell use, this is an exciting breakthrough. I realize there are ethical considerations to stem cell use, but rather than focusing on human cloning and other uses that are obviously wrong, can we not agree to at least look at potential benefits that can be realized if we start having serious discussions about the purpose of stem cell research? If it will help the millions affected with COPD, is it not worth a little research to alleviate their suffering? Would this effectively end respiratory care, taking our "bread and butter" from us (COPDers)? Can our insurance companies agree and afford to cover this expense to those who need it? What would the rules be (to smoke or not to smoke, that is the question)? It's an interesting topic, and one that deserves our attention.