Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) researchers successfully created a highly efficient method for directed differentiation of human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) into lung and airway epithelial cells.

Investigators believe the findings have implications for the study of a number of lung diseases, including idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), in which type 2 alveolar epithelial cells are thought to play a central role.

“Using this technology, researchers will finally be able to create laboratory models of IPF, study the disease at the molecular level, and screen drugs for possible treatments or cures,” said study leader Hans-Willem Snoeck, MD, PhD, professor of medicine, microbiology and immunology. Dr. Snoeck also is affiliated with the Columbia Center for Translational Immunology and the Columbia Stem Cell Initiative.

“In the longer term, we hope to use this technology to make an autologous lung graft. This would entail taking a lung from a donor; removing all the lung cells, leaving only the lung scaffold; and seeding the scaffold with new lung cells derived from the patient. In this way, rejection problems could be avoided.”

The current research builds on Snoeck’s 2011 discovery of a set of chemical factors that can turn human embryonic stem cells or human induced pluripotent stem cells into anterior foregut endoderm – precursors of lung and airway cells.