In end-stage lung disease, transplantation is sometimes the only viable therapeutic option, but organ availability is limited and rejection presents an additional challenge. Innovative research efforts in the field of tissue regeneration, including pioneering discoveries by University of Vermont Professor of Medicine Daniel Weiss, M.D., Ph.D., and colleagues, hold promise for this population, which includes an estimated 12.7 million people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), the third leading cause of death in the U.S.
In the past year alone, Weiss and colleagues published four articles in Biomaterials, the leading bioengineering journal, as well as two March 2014 articles by first author Darcy Wagner, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow working in Weiss’ lab, reporting their development of new methods and techniques for engineering lungs for patients with COPD and pulmonary fibrosis.
Weiss and his team’s work focuses on lung tissue bioengineering, which involves the use of a scaffold — or framework — of lungs from human cadavers to engineer new lungs for patients with end-stage disease. Their studies have examined multiple perspectives on the process of stripping the cellular material from these lungs — called decellularizing — and replacing it with stem cells (recellularization), in an effort to grow new, healthy lungs for transplantation.
Working in animal and human models, Wagner, Weiss and colleagues have addressed numerous challenges faced during the lung tissue bioengineering process, such as the storage and sterilization of decellularized cadaveric scaffolds and the impact of the age and disease state of donor lungs on these processes.
In one of the latest Biomaterials studies, the researchers report on novel techniques that increase the ability to perform high-throughput studies of human lungs.
“It’s expensive and difficult to repopulate an entire human lung at one time, and, unlike in mouse models, this doesn’t readily allow the study of multiple conditions, such as cell types, growth factors, and environmental influences like mechanical stretch — normal breathing motions — that will all affect successful lung recellularization,” explains Weiss.