Stem Cell Therapy for Lung Disease Recovery

Stem Cell Therapy for Lung Disease Recovery

Physicians and researchers are studying mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) as reparative tools for patients with chronic lung conditions. As promising results of said studies, performed in lung transplant recipients who had developed chronic lung allograft dysfunction, showed that it was safe and feasible to provide cell therapy intravenously to this population. The study was published in Stem Cells Translational Medicine in 2018.(1)

A research team from the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and North Carolina State University (NCSU) has developed promising research toward a possible stem cell treatment for several lung conditions, such as idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and cystic fibrosis – often-fatal conditions that affect tens of millions of Americans.

In the journal Respiratory Research, the scientists demonstrated that they could harvest lung stem cells from people using a relatively non-invasive, doctor’s-office technique. They were then able to multiply the harvested lung cells in the lab to yield enough cells sufficient for human therapy.

In a second study, published in the journal Stem Cells Translational Medicine, the team showed that in rodents they could use the same type of lung cell to successfully treat a model of IPF – a chronic, irreversible and ultimately fatal disease characterized by a progressive decline in lung function.

The researchers have been in discussion with the FDA and are preparing an application for an initial clinical trial in patients with IPF. (2)

Why is this relevant?

Respiratory diseases remain a significant cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide, and for many of the severe lung diseases including idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cystic fibrosis (CF), bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD), and acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) there is currently no cure.(3)

These diseases of the lung involve the buildup of fibrous, scar-like tissue, typically due to chronic lung inflammation. As this fibrous tissue replaces working lung tissue, the lungs become less able to transfer oxygen to the blood. Patients ultimately are at risk of early death from respiratory failure. In the case of IPF, which has been linked to smoking, most patients live for fewer than five years after diagnosis.(4)

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a progressive life-threatening disease, which has a massive impact on public health and is currently increasing in prevalence. COPD is a complex pathology with several clinical phenotypes involving different degrees of inflammation, tissue damage, and structural changes.(5)

How does Stem Cell Therapy help Lung Disease Recovery?

According to the National Emphysema Foundation, “After having been exposed to stem cell therapy, many COPD patients are often willing “to receive additional cell infusions if possible, due to a feeling of well-being associated with the injection.” Previous studies have also shown that intravenous infusion of these cultured adipose stem cells can significantly improve smoke exposure-induced emphysema onset and progression. Utilizing stem cells for regenerative purposes shows limitless potential. Patients now have access to innovate treatments that are compliant, effective and, importantly, safe.”(6)

Mesenchymal stem/stromal cells (MSCs) have been shown to improve lung function and survival in chronic inflammatory lung diseases, including asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH), and silicosis. (7)

To date, the safety and feasibility of stem cell and extracellular vesicles administration have been confirmed by numerous phase I/II trials in patients with COPD, acute respiratory distress syndrome, bronchial dysplasia, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, pulmonary artery hypertension, and silicosis.(8)


  3. Rolandsson Enes S., Weiss, D.J. Cell Therapy for Lung Disease: Current Status and Future Prospects. Curr Cell Rep 6, 30-39 (2020). Link:
  5. Rolandsson Enes S., Weiss, D.J. Cell Therapy for Lung Disease: Current Status and Future Prospects. Curr Cell Rep 6, 30-39 (2020). Link:
  7. Cruz FF, Rocco PRM. The potential of mesenchymal stem cell therapy for chronic lung disease. Expert Rev Respir Med. 2020 Jan;14(1):31-39. doi: 10.1080/17476348.2020.1679628. Epub 2019 Oct 15. PMID: 31608724. Link:
  8. Ji, H. L., Liu, C., & Zhao, R. Z. (2020). Stem cell therapy for COVID-19 and other respiratory diseases: Global trends of clinical trials. World journal of stem cells, 12(6), 471–480. Link: