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Building a new lung, one cell at a time?

Now this is just cool. Researchers at Yale University have reported success in using lung cells from a newborn rat to regrow a functional lung. The scientists layered the cells onto a extracellular scaffolding left behind after they removed the cells from an existing lung. (Think a tree from which the leaves have been stripped.) The new cells were able to use the scaffolding, which maintained the branching structure of a mature lung, to become a three-dimensional, working organ that could maintain gas exchange for at least a short time when transplanted back into an animal. The researchers hope that the finding may one day give people with cystic fibrosis and other pulmonary diseases an alternative to lung transplants:

Although representing only an initial step toward the ultimate goal of generating fully functional lungs in vitro, these results suggest that repopulation of lung matrix is a viable strategy for lung regeneration.

The research was published in ScienceExpress on June 24. The next day, researchers from Harvard Medical School and Children's Hospital Boston reported in the print version of Science that they've developed a "lung on a chip" system to study how the organ responds to mechanical forces and tiny nanoparticles. Rachel Bernstein of the Los Angeles Times reports:

The chip acted like proper lung tissue when exposed to blood flow and invading bacteria, fighting off the bug and transporting it to the other side of the membrane. It also mimicked another important biological phenomenon: the stretching that occurs when lungs expand to take in air. This property is missing in traditional toxicology studies using lung cells in dishes.

Like I said. Cool.

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