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Scientists Grow Lung Cells From Stem Cells

Sean Markey
National Geographic News
Updated August 24, 2005
 
Scientists in London say they have successfully grown lung cells from embryonic stem cells. Researchers hail the breakthrough as a first step toward lab-grown replacement lungs and tissue for transplant and cancer patients.

Scientists at Imperial College London reported yesterday that they successfully coaxed embryonic stem cells to change into specialized lung cells. The cells line an area of human lungs that helps our bodies absorb oxygen and shed carbon dioxide.

"This is a very exciting development, and could be a huge step towards being able to build human lungs for transplantation or to repair lungs severely damaged by incurable diseases such as cancer," Julia Polak, an Imperial College London professor who led the research team, said in a press statement.

Found in human embryos, embryonic stem cells are primitive cells with the power to transform into any one of the 200 or so specialized cell types found in the human body—from brain and nerve cells to heart and liver cells.

Researchers describe their new study this week in the journal Tissue Engineering.

"Although it will be some years before we are able to build actual human lungs for transplantation, this is a major step towards deriving cells that could be used to repair damaged lungs," the study's lead author, Anne Bishop, said in a press statement.

The advance is the latest in a spate of recent stem cell discoveries. On Sunday, researchers at Harvard University announced that they successfully fused skin cells and embryonic stem cells to create hybrid stem cells with the DNA of the skin cell donor.

Last week, scientists in Edinburgh, Scotland, said they were able to grow pure nerve stem cells, which grow into nerve and brain cells, from embryonic stem cells. The advance may aid the treatment of Alzheimier's, Parkinson's, and other neurological diseases.

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