Researchers at the University of Michigan have created a 3D bioengineered model of lung tissue to better understand cystic fibrosis and potential treatments.
They reconstructed 3D lung interstitium, or connective tissue, the home of fibroblasts and location where fibrosis begins. Their goal was to understand how mechanical cues from lung tissue affect fibroblast behavior and disease progression.
“Recreating the 3D fibrous structure of the lung interstitium allowed us to confirm effective drugs that wouldn’t be identified as hits in traditional screening settings,” Baker said.
At the center of the pulmonary fibrosis mystery is the fibroblast, a cell found in the lung interstitium that is crucial to healing but, paradoxically, can also drive disease progression. When activated, after an injury or when disease is present, they become myofibroblasts. Regulated properly, they play an important role in wound healing, but when misregulated, they can drive chronic disease. In the case of pulmonary fibrosis, they cause the stiffening of lung tissue that hampers breathing.
“Our lung tissue model looks and behaves similarly to what we have observed when imaging real lung tissue,” Baker said. “Patient cells within our model can actively stiffen, degrade or remodel their own environment just like they do in disease.”