Scientists at the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Unit (BDI) in Australia, may have come closer to creating a new treatment for chronic asthma using the power of stem cell technology.
Asthma is a long-term condition that affects the airways, causing them to become extra sensitive or ‘hyperresponsive’, and react by tightening, becoming inflamed and causing a build up of phlegm. Asthma is thought to affect up to one in 11 people in the UK. Those with severe and chronic asthma risk life threatening asthma attacks on a daily basis. Sadly close to 1,500 people a year still die from asthma attacks, it is estimated that two thirds of these deaths are preventable.
Current treatment for asthma relies on the sufferer having to carry a medical steroid inhaler with them at all times in case of an attack. Not having an inhaler administered quickly enough can be the difference between life and death. Inhaled steroids are not always 100% effective for those who have severe asthma.
The team of scientists lead by Chrishan Samuel and Dr Simon Royce tested a special type of induced pluripotent stem cell-derived mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs). Pluripotent stem cells can be created directly from human adult stem cells into a variety of tissue types. In this case the team wanted to discover if they could regenerate lung tissue.
The stem cells were tested for their effectiveness in three key areas; inflammation, airway remodeling (damage caused by prolonged inflammation) and hyperresponsiveness.
It was found that the stem cells effectively reduced the inflammation, reversed the signs of airways remodeling and normalised airway hyperresponsiveness.
This suggests that this type of stem cell (MSCs), could be effectively used as a therapy for severe asthma sufferers who are not responding to corticosteroid therapy.
“When we’ve tested other types of stem cells they haven’t been able to fully reverse scarring and lung dysfunction associated with asthma — we’ve had to combine them with anti-scarring drugs to achieve that. These cells were remarkable on their own as they were able to effectively reverse the scarring that contributes to lung dysfunction and difficulty in breathing,”
Associate Professor Samuel, who heads the Monash BDI’s Fibrosis Laboratory.
Further research will now be conducted to test the MSCs in combination with, or compared to a clinically-used corticosteroid such as an inhaler. It is hoped that stem cell therapy may be used in the future as a replacement for, or to work alongside current asthma treatments.