First-in-human clinical trials reveals the potential of using mesenchymal stem cells to slow the rapid decline of lung function associated with pulmonary fibrosis.
What is pulmonary fibrosis?
Pulmonary fibrosis is a condition where tissues in the lung between the air sacs are scarred and thickened, making it difficult for the lung to function properly. Symptoms of the disease, which includes shortness of breath, vary significantly between people where some people get sick very quickly and decline rapidly while in others symptoms take a long time to worsen.
In most cases doctors can’t identify the cause behind the scarring (known as idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis) and antibiotics, corticosteroids or other medications are prescribed to treat rapidly worsening symptoms.
Why study idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF)
According to researchers of this study IPF is one of the most common forms of lung disease in older adults. They also note that the prevalence of IPF has been increasing over the years.
The study involved patients from a specific category of IPF where lung function deteriorates fast. This is because current treatment options for this category of IPF has very poor prognosis, where the life expectancy of patients usually don’t exceed 2 years after being diagnosed.
Why can stem cells be used to restore lung function?
Stem cells are early stage cells that have an unlimited capacity to divide and grow. Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are one type of stem cells found in the body has the capability to make many different cell types including those of the lung.
In this first-in-human clinical trial researchers looked at whether high doses of MSCs can be used to prevent the rapid deterioration of lung function observed in patients with IPF.
What did they find?
The trial involved 20 patients who were randomly divided into two groups: one group received two doses of MSCs every 3 months and the other group received a placebo.
First to note, patients who received stem cells were given a high dose of cells. The researchers were happy to see that there were no significant side effects associated with administering these high doses. Thus it shows that high doses of MSCs are safe and will be tolerated if used as a treatment option for IPF.
Second, when they looked the group that received MSC therapy there was a significant increase in lung function compared to those who received the placebo, who continued to experience deterioration of their lungs.
Optimism for the future
Given the poor prognosis of patients with IPF this clinical trial opens the possibility of exploring MSCs as a safe and promising method for reducing disease progression that increasing life expectancy.