Tongji University has announced what it says is a major breakthrough in the treatment of lung disease by repairing tissue through stem cell transplantation.
The regenerative therapy works by taking stem cells from the patients' airways and growing them many times before transplanting into the patients' lungs.
Zuo Wei, a Tongji University professor, led the research team.
"Lung diseases have become the third killer following cardiovascular disease and cancer, while traditional methods do not work effectively in that regard," Zuo said.
Lung transplant surgery is largely limited due to the lack of donor lungs as well as severe side effects resulting from rejection, he said.
Stem cell-based regenerative therapy using the patients' own cells is likely to be the biggest hope for lung disease patients, he said.
The therapy can be used on such diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, bronchiectasis and interstitial lung diseases.
The team is working with Shanghai East Hospital affiliated to Tongji and the therapy has proved effective in lung tissue repair after being used on six patients at the hospital suffering from interstitial lung diseases. Dozens of stem cells were brushed from their airways and expanded tens of millions of times. They were then transplanted into the patients' lungs, where the stem cells developed into new alveoli and bronchus structures, repairing and replacing injured parts.
The patients' breathing and their ability to walk distances both improved. CT images also proved the repair and replacement of stem cells on injured parts.
In addition, two patients suffering from bronchiectasis said their symptoms, including coughing and asthma, had been relieved.
The team's technique is a world first, and the research project has been approved by the National Health and Family Planning Commission of China and China Food and Drug Administration.
The research results have been published in Protein & Cell journal.