Using patients’ own P63+ lung progenitor cells, researchers have been able to improve the quality of life for COPD patients by repairing damaged lung tissue.

The healing of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients' damaged lung tissue could be achieved using their own lung cells, as demonstrated by researchers.

After receiving experimental treatment, 17 participants in a phase I clinical trial improved their breathing, were able to walk more distance, and experienced a better quality of life, as reported by the study presented at the European Respiratory Society International Congress in Milan, Italy.

The number of people who die annually worldwide due to COPD is estimated to be around three million. It is a fatal disease that causes progressive damage to lung tissue. The damaged tissue cannot be restored by current treatments, and the disease can only be managed by using bronchodilators to improve airflow.

Researchers have been exploring stem cells, which can differentiate into any cell in the body, and progenitor cells, which can only differentiate into the cells that belong to the same tissue or organ. However, the outcomes have been mixed, with stem cells being the most commonly associated with COPD.

The question of whether P63+ lung progenitor cells can regenerate lung tissue damaged by COPD has been examined by Professor Wei Zuo and his colleagues at the Tongji University School of Medicine in Shanghai, China.

The congress was informed that the treatment for COPD may be dependent on stem cells and progenitor cells.

The researchers plan to conduct the first phase of a clinical trial with COPD by examining the safety and efficacy of obtaining P63+ progenitor cells from 20 patients' lungs and using them to develop additional cells in the laboratory before transplanting them back into their lungs.

During the trial, 35% of the participants had severe COPD, while 53% had extremely severe cases. As most COPD patients die quickly due to the disease, we used a small catheter with a brush to collect ancestry cells from their airways and create new cells using cloning techniques. The cells were then reintroduced to the lungs through bronchoscopy to repair damaged lung tissue.

During the 24-week follow-up period, the patients were evaluated for their level of tolerability and effectiveness.

The cell treatment was well tolerated by all patients. The median (average) diffusing capacity of the lungs (DLCO) increased from 30% to 39.7% after 12 weeks.

In an effort to improve COPD symptoms, Prof. Zuo revealed that P63+ progenitor cell transplantation resulted in improved lung function and increased life expectancy.

Emphysema can be lethal, and our trial demonstrates that P63+ progenitor cells can be transfused to repair mild emphysema, effectively removing lung damage. However, we are still unable to repair severe emphysema.

The study's scientists intend to carry out a phase II trial to assess the treatment efficacy in a larger sample population. The trial has been sanctioned by China's NMPA, the US version of the FDA, which means that COPD patients and their physicians cannot currently access the treatment.

The development of the treatment may be accelerated by the increasing number of doctors and patients involved in the clinical trial, which Prof. Zuo believes could benefit patients sooner. A similar therapeutic approach is also being tested in patients with lethal lung fibrotic diseases, including idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. They will then test the efficacy of the treatment in larger groups of people with more lung diseases, with the aim of developing the treatment for clinical use within approximately two to three years.

The Phase I clinical trial results on airways disease, asthma, COPD, and chronic cough have been deemed promising by Professor Omar Usmani, who heads the European Respiratory Society group at Imperial College London (UK).

Wei Zuo and his team presented a paper on 12 September 2023 at the European Respiratory Society International Congress 2023, discussing the autologous transplantation of P63+ lung progenitor cells as a potential therapeutic option for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Regend Therapeutics Ltd. covered the cost of the research.

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