Washington: A recent study has discovered a new stem cell that plays a part in the repair mechanism of the large airways of the lungs.
The large airway is known to play a vital role in protecting the body from infectious agents and toxins in the environment by producing and clearing mucus, which is largely produced by specialized mucus glands.
According to the researchers at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), the newly discovered lung stem cell for the mucus glands will most likely yield new insights into this critical process.
“We`re very excited that we found this population of cells because it will allow us to study mechanisms of diseases of the upper airway,” said Dr. Brigitte Gomperts, an assistant professor of pediatrics and hematology/oncology.
“For example, there currently are no treatments for excess mucus production, which we see in cystic fibrosis, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
But if we can understand the mechanisms of how these stem cells repair the mucus glands, then we may be able to find a way to put the brakes on the system and prevent mucus over production,” she added.
Ahmed Hegab, a postdoctoral scholar in Gomperts lab has named the newly discovered cells ‘sub-mucosal gland duct stem cells’, as they are found in the ducts where the mucus is first secreted.
After proving that the lung stem cells existed and finding where they ‘lived,’ Gomperts and her team set out to isolate them and confirm that they could self-renew, or grow more of themselves.
They also checked whether the lung stem cells could differentiate, turn into the cells that make up the mucus glands and surface epithelium.
For this, the team created model systems in which these isolated stem cells did make mucus glands with all the types of cells required to make mucus and repair the surface barrier of the large airways.
The findings suggested that the stem cells may also play a role in tumour initiation in lung cancer when the repair goes awry.
The study appears in the current issue of the peer-reviewed journal Stem Cells.