Researchers made a huge step forward in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic by creating lab-grown “mini-lungs” that provide details on how SARS-COV-2 affects the lungs.
SARS-COV-2, also known as COVID-19 or “the new Coronavirus” has taken the planet by storm. More aggressive than the flu, it is able to spread very fast, so we all had to take exceptional measures in order to limit the number of casualties. Even though there were over 44 million confirmed infections so far (and over 1 million deaths), we still don’t know very much about this virus and how it affects our bodies. Scientists are making progress in finding out how SARS-COV-2 affects the lungs.
In order to study how the virus affects the lungs at a molecular level, a team of scientists at Duke University used stem-cells from the lungs to grow “lung organoids”. These are like mini-lungs grown in Petri dishes from lung stem cells. The team, lead by Purushothama Rao Tata, has conducted many previous experiments with these types of cells, showing that if you provide the right environment, even a single such cell can multiply into millions of cells that group themselves to form balloon-like structures that look just like lung alveoli. They were able to produce 100% human cell structures, and this was a very important step in order to be able to conduct accurate studies1)Hiroaki Katsura, Vishwaraj Sontake, Aleksandra Tata, Yoshihiko Kobayashi, Caitlin E. Edwards, Brook E. Heaton, Arvind Konkimalla, Takanori Asakura, Yu Mikami, Ethan J. Fritch, Patty J.Lee, Nicholas S.Heaton, Richard C. Boucher, Scott H. Randell, Ralph S. Baric, Purushothama Rao Tata – Human lung stem cell-based alveolospheres provide insights into SARS-CoV-2 mediated interferon responses and pneumocyte dysfunction.
The alveoli are balloon-like air sacs where the actual gas exchange takes place in the lungs. The Covid-19 virus attacks these structures, leading to acute respiratory diseases, the leading cause of Covid-19 deaths. Researchers did not have appropriate experimental models to study the impact of this virus on human tissue, so this is a critical step forward in understanding how the virus affects the lungs. According to Tata, “this is a versatile model system that allows us to study not only SARS-CoV-2, but any respiratory virus that targets these cells, including influenza.”
What They Have Found so Far
The first step was to confirm that the virus goes, and they were able to confirm that it locates and binds to the ACE2 cell surface receptor. After being infected, the organoids showed an inflammatory response mediated by interferons and also the cytokine storm. These are known reactions from infected humans, but now we can begin to understand how they take place. For example, the cytokine storm “was thought cytokine storm happened due to the large influx of immune cells, but we can see it also happens in the lung stem cells themselves,”, per Tata’s affirmations2)LAB-GROWN MINI-LUNGS MIMIC THE REAL THING – RIGHT DOWN TO COVID INFECTION.
The Importance of These Experiments
Sars-CoV-2 is a virus, and it is mutating, adapting, and transforming itself. There are multiple mutations detected throughout the world. For example in Huston, a second wave was caused by a mutated form of the virus compared to the first wave3)Molecular analysis of COVID-19’s second wave shows mutant viruses linked to rapid spread. In Europe, the second wave seems to have been caused by a virus mutation that happened in Spain4)Emergence and spread of a SARS-CoV-2 variant through Europe in the summer of 2020. This new form spread quickly throughout Europe.
Since the virus keeps changing its form and thus the way it works and affects the human body, it is critical to be able to study and understand the mechanisms it uses and figure out a way to fight it. Vaccine research is progressing, but one found, it takes a lot of time for a vaccine to be tested in order to be made available. Having a way to treat infected patients is critical, and this can’t be done efficiently without understanding what we are dealing with.
|↑1||Hiroaki Katsura, Vishwaraj Sontake, Aleksandra Tata, Yoshihiko Kobayashi, Caitlin E. Edwards, Brook E. Heaton, Arvind Konkimalla, Takanori Asakura, Yu Mikami, Ethan J. Fritch, Patty J.Lee, Nicholas S.Heaton, Richard C. Boucher, Scott H. Randell, Ralph S. Baric, Purushothama Rao Tata – Human lung stem cell-based alveolospheres provide insights into SARS-CoV-2 mediated interferon responses and pneumocyte dysfunction|
|↑2||LAB-GROWN MINI-LUNGS MIMIC THE REAL THING – RIGHT DOWN TO COVID INFECTION|
|↑3||Molecular analysis of COVID-19’s second wave shows mutant viruses linked to rapid spread|
|↑4||Emergence and spread of a SARS-CoV-2 variant through Europe in the summer of 2020|