Stem cells show potential for asthma treatment

Thursday, 06 July, 2017


Monash University scientists have published the results of their study into mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) from Cynata Therapeutics, revealing that the company’s technology holds promise as a treatment for chronic asthma.

The Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute (BDI) scientists tested Cynata Therapeutics’ induced pluripotent stem cell-derived mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) in a mouse model of experimental asthma. Induced pluripotent stem cells are a type of pluripotent stem cell that can be generated directly from adult cells; they have the ability to be differentiated into a variety of tissue types and, in this case, MSCs that can regenerate damaged lung tissue.

Lead researchers Associate Professor Chrishan Samuel and Dr Simon Royce tested the efficacy of the MSCs on three key components of asthma in a preclinical model of chronic allergic airways disease: inflammation; airway remodelling (structural changes that occur in lungs as a result of prolonged inflammation); and airway hyper-responsiveness (AHR, the clinical symptom of asthma). Initial data was released last year, with the full results now available in The FASEB Journal.

The researchers found that the MSCs effectively reduced inflammation, reversed signs of airway remodelling and normalised airway/lung fibrosis and AHR, whether delivered intravenously or intranasally. Intravenous administration of the MSCs partially reversed AHR, while intranasal administration completely normalised AHR. The scientists concluded that the MSCs may therefore provide a novel standalone therapy or an adjunct therapy for groups of asthma sufferers who do not respond to current (corticosteroid) therapy.

“Most importantly, what we found was you can treat fibrosis (hardening or scarring of the lung) very effectively,” said Associate Professor Samuel, with intranasal delivery found to completely reverse pathologic collagen deposition in the lungs to levels seen in animals in which the asthma model was not induced.

“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.”

A further study in collaboration with the Monash Lung Biology Network, a consortium which includes researchers from the BDI, is currently in progress. This study is focusing on the effects of MSCs in combination with or in comparison to a clinically used corticosteroid, which is the common therapeutic used to treat asthma. The next step will be clinical trials using the cells as a novel target for asthma.

Image caption: Lead researchers Dr Simon Royce and Associate Professor Chrishan Samuel.

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