COPD: Stem cell therapy repairs lung tissue

In the case of COPD, the condition of the damaged lungs has so far been difficult to improve therapeutically. That could change in the future: with the help of lung precursor cells.

In patients with the lung disease COPD, what is known as emphysema develops over time. This causes the lungs to inflate, causing irreparable damage to the alveoli in which gas exchange takes place. The oxygen supply to the sick becomes increasingly worse.

COPD Treatments Stem Cell Therapy

New therapeutic approach gives hope for lung regeneration

There is currently no cure for people with COPD – and only limited treatment options. But now a new therapeutic approach gives hope that the lungs could at least partially regenerate: with the help of the body’s own lung stem cells.

The process was recently presented by a research team led by Prof. Wei Zuo from Tongji University in Shanghai at the International Congress of the European Respiratory Society in Milan.

Progenitor cells repair the lungs

As part of a phase I clinical trial, the scientists examined whether therapy with so-called lung progenitor cells could help people with COPD. While real stem cells can transform into any body tissue, precursor cells are already committed to a specific organ. However, they can still develop into any tissue type in the target organ and thus form an intermediate stage between stem cells and mature body cells.

Zuo and his team chose P63+ lung progenitor cells for their experiment. “These are known for their ability to regenerate respiratory tissue,” explains Zuo. “Animal studies have shown that they can repair the damaged epithelial tissue in the alveoli – the tiny air sacs in the lungs.”

Cell harvesting in the bronchi

The researchers first collected P63+ precursor cells in the bronchi of 20 COPD patients using tiny catheters and then multiplied each one millions of times in the laboratory. They then reintroduced the body’s own cells into the damaged lungs of 17 participants using bronchoscopy. Three people served as a control group.

35 percent of the patients suffered from moderate COPD at the time of removal, and in 58 percent the disease had already progressed to a very advanced stage. The therapy was well tolerated by all those treated. But above all, her condition improved:

Improved lung function: The diffusion capacity of the lungs (DLCO), which records the gas exchange between the lungs and blood, increased from 30 percent to 39.7 percent of normal capacity within twelve weeks. After 24 weeks it reached an average of 40.3 percent.

Higher performance: The increase in oxygen was noticeable in performance: While the participants were only able to run an average of 410 meters within six minutes before the start of therapy, they managed 447 meters 24 weeks after the treatment.

The quality of life also increased measurably: the mean value in the so-called St George’s Respiratory Questionnaire (SGRQ) fell by seven points, which means an improvement. This questionnaire records the frequency and severity of symptoms as well as the ability to carry out everyday activities.

In two patients with only mild emphysema, the lungs even recovered thanks to the therapy. This was not the case in patients with already advanced disease.

Live better, live longer

“We found that transplantation of P63+ progenitor cells not only improved the lung function of patients with COPD, but also alleviated their symptoms such as shortness of breath, loss of exercise capacity and persistent cough,” reports study leader Zuo.

This means that patients can lead a better life, usually with a longer life expectancy. Life expectancy with COPD is low, especially in advanced stages of the disease.

The research team hopes that the therapy could not only help COPD patients in the future, but also people with other forms of lung diseases – for example fibrosis.

In the UAE

In the United Arab Emirates, the fight against Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a testament to innovation, access, and improving lives. COPD, a progressive lung condition, is a growing concern worldwide, and the UAE has not been left untouched by its impact.

The UAE’s healthcare system, renowned for its modernity and accessibility through mandatory private health insurance, has enabled timely diagnosis and treatment for COPD patients. The latest medications and therapies are readily available, enhancing the quality of care and life for those affected. However, it’s essential to remember that overmedication can be a concern. Seeking second opinions and exploring holistic treatment approaches is a prudent choice for patients.

The UAE’s commitment to COPD care is not just about medical interventions; it’s also about promoting awareness, research, and patient empowerment. Initiatives for early diagnosis, smoking cessation, and rehabilitation programs are increasingly prevalent. Together, we’re building a future where COPD is not just manageable but preventable, underscoring the UAE’s dedication to holistic healthcare.