An experimental treatment that sees a patient’s own cells transplanted into damaged parts of their lung could offer new hope to sufferers of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), researchers have said.
A new preliminary study, involving only 20 patients, has shown that it is possible to repair damaged lung tissue among certain COPD patients using their own lung cells.
Delegates at the European Respiratory Society’s International Congress held Sept 9-13 (2023) in Milan, Spain, were told that the cell-based regenerative medicine could offer ”hope to cure COPD”.
COPD is the name for a collection of lung diseases that includes chronic bronchitis, emphysema and chronic obstructive airways disease.
It causes progressive damage to lung tissue, which cannot be repaired with current treatments.
People with COPD have difficulties breathing.
Symptoms include shortness of breath, a persistent chesty cough with phlegm, frequent chest infections and persistent wheezing.
It is the third leading cause of death worldwide, according to World Health Organization (WHO) figures, and is responsible for more than three million deaths every year.
The research, led by scientists from Tongji University in China, was based on the hypothesis that a type of cell called P63 positive lung progenitor cells, might be able to regenerate lung tissue damaged by COPD.
These cells have previously been shown to successfully repair damaged tissue in the tiny air sacs in the lung known as alveoli in animal studies.
The new study saw scientists take these cells from the lungs of patients, grow millions more of them in a laboratory, then transplant them back into the patients’ lungs.
Of the 20 patients, 17 received this treatment.
They were assessed after treatment for the safety and efficacy of the procedure.
The academics reported that the cell treatment was well tolerated by all patients.
The trial participants reported being able to breathe better and walk further, as well as having a better quality of life after the treatment.
Average breathing levels improved significantly by 12 weeks, with even more benefits seen six months after treatment.
In a six-minute walk test, patients managed an average of 410 metres before treatment; this increased to an average of 447m six months after treatment.
And importantly, the scientists reported that in two patients with mild emphysema – a type of lung damage that is normally permanent and progressive – the treatment repaired the lung damage.
CT (computed tomography) scans of their lungs showed “resolution of the lesions at 24 weeks”, the study authors wrote.
The research team is now planning to confirm their findings by testing a larger group of patients in another clinical trial. – dpa