Transplant of Lung Cells Shows Promise as a Cure for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
A groundbreaking study presented at the International Congress of the European Respiratory Society has revealed that a transplant of lung cells from patients themselves has successfully restored damaged tissue caused by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This marks the first time that regenerative medicine through autologous lung cell transplantation has shown potential as a cure for COPD.
The Phase I clinical trial involved 20 COPD patients, with 17 experiencing improved breathing, increased mobility, and a better quality of life after receiving the experimental treatment. COPD is a severe respiratory disease that causes progressive damage to lung tissue. Current treatments only provide relief, while the affected tissue cannot be repaired. Medications called bronchodilators are used to widen the airways and improve airflow.
Omar Usmani, from Imperial College London, United Kingdom, and head of the European Respiratory Society group on respiratory tract diseases, asthma, COPD, and cough, expressed optimism about the encouraging results of the clinical trial. COPD urgently requires more effective therapies. Researchers have been investigating the potential of stem and progenitor cells as a treatment for COPD. Stem cells have the ability to transform into any cell in the body, while progenitor cells can only become cells belonging to the same tissue or organ. Progenitor cells are normally used by the body to repair and replace damaged tissue. However, previous results, particularly with stem cells, have been contradictory.
Wei Zuo’s team from Tongji University School of Medicine in Shanghai, China, and chief scientist at Regend Therapeutics Ltd, focused on a type of cell called P63+ lung progenitor cells to regenerate damaged lung tissue affected by COPD. Zuo stated during the presentation of the results that regenerative medicine based on stem cells and progenitor cells could be the greatest hope for a COPD cure.
P63+ progenitor cells are known for their regenerative ability in airway tissues. Animal experiments have already shown they can repair damaged epithelial tissue in the alveoli, the small air sacs in the lungs responsible for gas exchange. In the Phase I clinical trial, researchers collected P63+ progenitor cells from the airways of 20 COPD patients using a small catheter with a brush. These cells were cloned to create billions more and then transplanted back into the patients’ lungs to repair the damaged tissue.
Patients were evaluated 24 weeks after treatment to assess its tolerability and effectiveness. Zuo revealed that the transplantation of P63+ progenitor cells not only improved lung function, but also relieved COPD symptoms such as shortness of breath, exercise limitations, and persistent cough. This breakthrough offers the potential for a better quality and longer life expectancy for COPD patients.
However, the study also found limits to this treatment, as severe emphysema still remains challenging to repair. Despite this, the promising results have paved the way for a Phase II trial to evaluate the effectiveness of the treatment in a larger group of patients.
Additionally, similar therapeutic strategies are being explored for patients with fatal pulmonary fibrotic diseases, including idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. Zuo expressed hope that the treatment could be ready for clinical use within two to three years. The development of new treatments like this offers renewed hope for millions suffering from COPD worldwide.