Research on lung tissue repair extended by two years
To expedite progress towards a medical breakthrough for COPD, Longfonds initiated LONGFONDS | Accelerate five years ago. This trans-Atlantic collaboration brought together top scientists in the BREATH project, aimed at curing damaged lung tissue caused bij COPD. To further advance the promising research results from the initial period, the BREATH scientists will continue to work closely together for the next two years.
“Good research takes time”
Within the BREATH project, several sub-projects were launched simultaneously in 2018. Under the leadership of the renowned stem cell scientists Hans Clevers and Carla Kim, researchers shared the knowledge they had acquired with each other. As research findings reinforced one another, the quest for the desired solution for COPD accelerated.
Five years of research have yielded many new findings. A new type of stem cell (RASC) has been discovered, which facilitates the growth of lung alveolar cells. It has also been possible to cultivate a mini-lung from a healthy mouse in the lab and transplant its cells into another mouse.
However, "good research takes time", emphasizes the current consortium leader Carla Kim. It turns out to be more challenging to transfer those healthy cells to a mouse with COPD. What is needed to make these cells work in a COPD mouse?
Getting cells to function
Longfonds has decided to fund the BREATH consortium for another two years so that the researchers can continue their highly promising work till the end of 2025. The new research plan focuses on developing regenerative treatments for people with COPD. How can you make the cells in the lungs of someone with COPD grow again? How do you get them to function again?
The solution may lie in a regenerative protein that can support lung recovery in COPD. In individuals with COPD, this specific protein is present in smaller amounts than in those with healthy lungs. Can this protein be used to support lung recovery in COPD? This will be further examined in the follow-up study.
Previous research within BREATH has also shown that the communication between cells and molecules in people with COPD does not function properly. Essentially, a cell doesn't understand what it needs to do. The chemical compound lithium, an existing medication often used by people with mood swings, can improve this communication.
There are indications that lithium may have an effect on COPD. By extending the research into this, further investigation can be conducted to understand how that process works precisely. Researchers are looking for people who use lithium for their mood swings and also have COPD. If it turns out that this group experiences less COPD-related problems, a trial can begin to see if people with COPD can benefit from lithium.
Researchers have succeeded in transplanting a mini-lung from a healthy mouse to another mouse. However, the transplantation process currently results in the loss of transplanted cells. In the upcoming two years of follow-up research, the research team will work on ways to better protect the carefully cultivated and transplanted cells. This is a crucial intermediate step in applying this research to human cells.
Working towards practical applications
People with COPD face increasingly severe limitations in their daily lives. Lung recovery seemed to be a dream that would never come true. But with the follow-up studies of BREATH, the discovery of practical, innovative applications of previous research is being accelerated. The Patient Advisory Committee of BREATH continues to play an important supervisory and advisory role in the progress of the research.