Duke researchers use stem cell models to test therapies for lung infections including coronaviruses
Posted November 20, 2020 6:00 a.m. EST
Updated November 20, 2020 9:51 a.m. EST
Durham, N.C. — Duke researches now use artificial human "mini-lungs" for testing new therapies to beat COVID-19. They may also be able to repair lung damage from the virus.
Rather than using animal models to find effective therapeutics, Duke cell biologist Dr. Purushothama Rao Tata is focused on human stem cells. "It’s not a human being, but it is a human model," said Tata.
The mini-lung model is helping researchers learn how a coronavirus attacks cells that line the walls of air sacs of the lungs where carbon dioxide and oxygen are constantly exchanged.
"Once (the virus) gets in,they start to replicate. They make more of themselves. How do we prevent that?" Tata wonders.
For those already infected by the virus, Tata says the goal is to prevent the spread and then to repair the damage using reprogrammed stem cells.
The Duke study and a similar independent approach at Cambridge University in England were both published in the journal "Cell Stem Cell."
With human tissue models Tata says they can test hundreds of potential therapies simultaneously. "Our system will allow us to expand them into millions and millions of cells."
Beyond coronavirus concerns, Tata says the system can be used for any respiratory bugs, including the flu. "And now we have a really good system to test the flu infection in a quote-unquote humanized modeling system," he said.
Tata says his research lab is now collaborating with researchers at UNC Chapel Hill to conduct testing as well as with industry partners in the Research Triangle Park.