My last two articles have highlighted how Embryonic Stem Cells (ESCs), Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPSCs), and Gestational Stem Cells have shaped regenerative medicine research for patients with cystic fibrosis (CF). In order to further delve into the function of stem cells, various approaches must be taken to uncover their therapeutic application. While the notion of stem cells may evoke an image of organ growth and regeneration, stem cells’ unique abilities span beyond repairing damaged tissue. Inflammation in lung diseases plays a pivotal role in the pathogenesis within the airway, and can lead to a greater frequency of pulmonary exacerbation. Unfortunately, diseases like cystic fibrosis demonstrate a more intense inflammatory response than other non-CF inflammatory diseases. There are several medication-based approaches aimed at confronting this damaging inflammation, but another suitable method may be in our future.
Mesenchymal Stem Cells (MSCs) are a type of stem cell found in a great number of tissues in the body. MSCs are capable of self-renewal, and are described as multipotent because of their ability to differentiate into cells of specific lineages like osteoblasts, chondrocytes, adipocytes, and myocytes. However, while MSCs cannot differentiate into as many tissues as ESCs and iPSCs, some scientists suggest that these cells have a greater regenerative capacity than originally thought. In fact, a study in 2005 even investigated bone-marrow derived MSCs and their ability to differentiate into lung airway cells. The same group of scientists also found that MSCs can also be edited to correct the defective CFTR gene found in CF. However, other stem cells may provide an easier, more efficient alternative for lung regeneration. Perhaps MSCs’ greatest therapeutic ability does not lie within their ability to differentiate, but instead their ability to play an immunomodulatory role within the body.
Studies have shown that MSCs have a great ability to suppress chemicals and cells in the immune system that lead to inflammation. Because of this, many researchers are now investigating the potential for MSCs to modulate this inflammatory environment and reduce damage and scarring seen in inflamed organs. If this therapeutic target evolves into application for CF patients, inflammatory damage seen in the lungs, pancreases, and other tissues could be slowed and could reduce the possibility of lung transplant and cystic fibrosis related diabetes (CFRD). Another promising aspect is the cell source, with bone marrow serving as a donor source to culture these MSCs for patient use.
Mesenchymal Stem Cells’ ability to modulate inflammation can be applied to many diseases. While many of us reading this article are focused on a cure for cystic fibrosis, MSCs’ relevance to other illnesses only aids our fight to cure CF. With scientists searching for treatments for other diseases, MSCs will likely be the target of many types of research, and have a large source of funding. MSCs have a platform to change the lives of many with chronic inflammatory diseases. Although not a cure for CF, MSCs may have the ability to significantly increase the life expectancy and quality of life for those with cystic fibrosis.