UH researchers discover types of stem cells that may hold the key to curing chronic lung disease

HOUSTON – Researchers at the University of Houston have received a $2.7 million grant to examine pro-inflammatory stem cell variants in cystic fibrosis (CF).

During their research, Frank McKeon and Wa Xian made a discovery that could change medicine and provide hope for patients who struggle to breathe with conditions like CF, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

“Surprisingly, what we found is the lungs’ stem cells we clone from the diseased lung, they look a little bit different from the normal lung,” Xian said.

These stem cells may play a key role in the progression of the disease.

“Instead of contributing to the normal regeneration, they seem to cause fibrosis and the inflammation in the lung,” Xian said.

“All of these are normal, protective systems going awry, and so, we’re very interested in why that happens, but we’re also looking at these variant stem cells as targets for all of these conditions,” McKeon explained.

Using technology that clones stem cells could help find a cure for those chronic lung conditions.

What will the treatment look like?

Xian said it may be combining a medication targeting those stem cell mutations, while also transplanting healthy stem cells back to the lungs.

“Those variants that seem to be disease-causing, those are the targets for this disease!” McKeon said.

What’s next?

They have to take the combination of the right medications and the right stem cells into a phase one trial.

Clinical trials (from start to finish) typically take many years before it means lifesaving treatments for the general public.

Xian and McKeon insist they’re trying to get expedited trials because they understand many of these patients don’t have time on their side.