Researchers at Australia’s Monash University have developed a new stem cell treatment that could benefit people who suffer from chronic asthma. Scientists at the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute have conducted experiments with pluripotent stem cells with early results reported as promising.
The Monash scientists have applied their experimental expertise to a model developed by Cynata Therapeutics. The process involves deriving mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) from induced pluripotent stem cells (IPSCs). IPSCs can be generated from mature cells in adult humans and have the ability to differentiate into a number of tissues. In this instance, the scientists used IPSCs to derive mesenchymal stem cells that can repair and regenerate the damaged tissue in the lungs of chronic asthma patients.
Dr. Simon Royce and Associate Professor Christian Samuel, lead researchers of the study at Monash, tested the effectiveness of MSCs in treating three key components of chronic asthma, which is an allergic disease of the airways:
- Structural changes in the lungs
- Hyper-responsiveness of the airways
The results of the study, published in FASEB Journal, reveal that MSCs are effective in reducing inflammation, reversing the remodeling (structural changes) that occur in the lungs of asthmatics, and normalizing the hyper-responsiveness that is characteristic of the disease. The most important finding, however, was that the MSCs could treat scarring and hardening of the lung tissue (fibrosis).
The idea is to develop a standalone therapy for chronic asthma that is easy to administer. The researchers hope that this new treatment could serve as an adjunct therapy to patients who are unresponsive to corticosteroids.
This is the first time that stem cells have been able to reverse the scarring in the lungs. Earlier experiments showed that other types of stem cells needed to be combined with anti-fibrosis drugs to achieve a similar effect. Scarring of lung tissue is responsible for one of the most debilitating symptoms of asthma, i.e., difficulty breathing.
In the future, research will be focused on combining the MSCs with corticosteroids and/or comparing their efficacy to conventional asthma therapies. Following this, the group at Monash envisages clinical trials to test the safety and efficacy of MSCs.