September 17, 2014

Did you know that cord blood banking could be a benefit to those with incurable lung diseases?

For many patients with chronic diseases of the lungs, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and cystic fibrosis, the only possibility for a cure is a complete lung transplant. Lung transplants, however, are rare due to the lack of available organs and the inability of a patient to find a genetic match. Also, even when a genetically matched set of lungs is found and available for transplant, complications can arise following the surgery, one of the most severe obstacles being the body rejecting the new organ. 

The potential to “build” a set of lungs is real. Researchers have known that stem cells, including those from umbilical cord blood, can be used in regenerative medicine, and it is often utilized for the purpose of re-growing damaged cells. However, due to the complexity of the lungs, problems have been more likely to arise in the process when trying to regenerate the organ. Fortunately though, researchers have discovered a new method that can help to reduce or eliminate those problems. 

Though practical application in human trials has yet to happen, animal tests have been successful so far. As announced in 2010, researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston have developed a way to effectively grow lungs of rats in a laboratory, and later successfully growing pig lungs1. Applying the same methods and principles from the animal treatments, they have expanded their research and moved on to human lungs. 

The way the UT researchers did this was to take a set of lungs from a donor and essentially strip it down to just the connective tissue of collagen and elastin, leaving just the basic outer support frame left of the lungs. This framework served as a “scaffold” to hold new stem cells. It was completed through a repeated method of freezing and thawing the organ. Another set of donor lungs was used to collect lung cells, which was then applied to the “bare” lung scaffold. A four-week immersion process in a nutrient-rich solution accelerated the growth process, which resulted in the development of a complete human lung.

This stem cell process was a success, however, real world applications are still a decade or more away. Much more research and animal trials will be necessary before human trials can begin, but researchers are optimistic about its future role in regenerative organ growth.

Cord blood is a rich source of stem cells that could be used in this process, as well as dozens of additional stem cell therapies proven to fight certain diseases and disorders. Cord blood banking insures you and your family have access to emerging regenerative therapies utilizing stem cells, both now and in the future.

  • Human lungs successfully grown in a lab for the first time. McNamee, David. Medical News Today. Published online February 17, 2014. Found online 
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