WEDNESDAY, May 11 (HealthDay News) -- Contrary to current scientific thinking, human lungs do harbor stem cells capable of forming different parts of the lung, including blood vessels, a new study says.
The findings, reported May 12 in the New England Journal of Medicine, may open the door to eventual bioengineered lung tissue repair and replacement.
"These cells are very smart. They know what to do," said study senior author Dr. Piero Anversa. "The clinical implications are significant."
The findings could potentially offer a new avenue of treatment for patients suffering from respiratory conditions, such as emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or pulmonary hypertension, that currently have only limited treatment options.
"Now that we have identified these cells and have the potential of growing them, we know it's not science fiction," said Dr. Andrew Pecora, vice president of cancer services and a stem cell expert with Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. "A single cell placed in the right environment allows for the development of adult cells that can live for 80 years. The implications are potentially limitless."
Stem cells are those that first exist without organ-specific features but are capable of dividing and morphing into every other type of cell in the human body.
Stem cells are scattered throughout the body, and a growing cadre of scientists is attempting to harness their innate abilities to regenerate and repair parts of the human body, such as the heart.
The new findings challenge conventional knowledge about lung cells. According to an accompanying journal editorial, scientists had been holding on to the belief that no single cell in the lung could differentiate into multiple different types of cells, even though some cells do grow into specific cells, such as endothelial cells and the cells of the
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