To make engineered lung tissue for the project, Nichols needs to accomplish two main tasks. First, she has to generate a "scaffold," an extracellular protein network that will give structure to her creation. Then she has to add the right cells in the right quantities to grow tissue that will act as if though it's part of a real lung.
Nichols plans to either use an artificial scaffold or harvest a natural one from a pig lung, using a process that she and co-investigator Dr. Joaquin Cortiella developed to grow mouse lungs from stem cells. Choosing what kinds of cells to grow on the scaffold, she said, will be a matter of determining the best mix to accomplish two specific objectives: generating fibrosis, an all-too-common response to drug toxicity; and testing her system's responses to different strains of influenza.
"Like any organ, the lung has a lot of different cell types in it," Nichols said. "These tissues can be as complex as we want, but it's best to just start very simple and then build off of that we can evaluate the responses of just pneumocytes, or endothelial cells and pneumocytes together, or endothelial cells and pneumocytes and immune cells, like macrophages and neutrophils. It's important to know what each individual piece does."
Nichols is confident that she'll be able to meet the goals the NIH has set for the two-year award, opening up the possibility that she'll be selected to participate in the three-year-long second phase of the project. "After this we will probably join with whoever got kidney, whoever got liver, whoever got skin and so on, as well as whoever's making the system that this will all go in," she said. "Then we'll have something really significant, with all these units linked together interacting with each other, very much like your body would normally."
|Contact: Jim Kelly|
University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston