Lung Disease and Stem Cells

Lung disease refers to a range of medical conditions affecting the respiratory organs. The causes vary from smoking to diet, to premature birth and old age.

Of the many lung conditions affecting patients today, there are three illnesses which are most common:

  • Lung cancer is the growth of abnormal cells in one or both of the lungs. Usually, this occurs in cells in the air passages, which then turn into tumours. Lung cancer is responsible for 31% of lung-related deaths in the UK. [1]
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) refers to a range of conditions, including bronchitis, emphysema, refractory asthma and more. COPD accounts for 26.1% of UK lung-related deaths. [1]
  • Pneumonia is lung inflammation caused by a bacterial or viral infection. Patients’ air sacs fill with pus and sometimes turn solid. Pneumonia causes 25.3% of lung-related deaths. [1]

Overall, lung disease is responsible for 20.1% of deaths in the UK every year. [1]

Lung disease facts

  • In the UK, someone dies from lung disease every 5 minutes
  • 10,000 people newly diagnosed with lung disease every week
  • 6.5 million people currently treated for lung disease in the UK
  • Adults over 65 are at a much higher risk of contracting lung disease [2]
  • 3 million people living with COPD, 2 million undiagnosed [3]
  • COPD is the second most common lung disease
  • Lung cancer rates have risen 23% since 2004 [4]
  • Only 40% of people treated for lung cancer respond to therapy [5]

Lung disease and stem cells

There are 197 clinical trials testing stem cell therapies for the treatment of lung disease. [6] Of these, there are 51 looking at lung cancer [7], 15 at COPD [8], and 22 at pneumonia. [9]

Recently, doctors at Monash Children’s Hospital, Victoria saw success using placenta stem cells to treat a lung condition called bronchopulmonary dysplasia, which affects premature babies after they have been supported by respiratory apparatus. Researchers hope that the anti-inflammatory properties of stem cells will reverse lung damage. [10]

In England, scientists at University College London are using mesenchymal stem cells to treat lung cancer. Stem cells have a natural ‘homing’ ability, which can be used to transport an anti-cancer gene called MSCTRAIL to the site of malignant tumours. Treatment involves chemotherapy, followed by a stem cell transplant. [11]

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