In the lung scaffold process, cells harvested from animal or human lung tissue are grown ex vivo using acellular human lung scaffolds to study the regeneration of lung tissue, which could eventually be used for transplantation. The most promising models to date have used lung parenchyma and bronchial scaffolds, which have supported cell proliferation for up to 35 days ex vivo.4

“At present, there has not been any clinical trial which has demonstrated therapeutic efficacy using stem cells to treat COPD in patients,” said Darcy E. Wagner, PhD, of the Department of Experimental Medical Sciences, Wallenberg Center for Molecular Medicine and Lund Stem Cell Centre at Lund University in Sweden, in an interview with Pulmonology Advisor. “While several different stem cell therapies have been shown to be promising in animal models of COPD, they have not been successfully translated into the clinic. There is still a general lack of understanding of potential mechanisms of action and therefore it is difficult to understand how to best translate findings in the animals into the clinic.”

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Patients Beware: Investigations Still Underway

With new technological advances come opportunities — for the unscrupulous. As stem cell and related therapy research continues in global trials, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has cautioned patients and opportunists alike that the nascent discoveries are not yet approved and that the FDA would increase enforcement of such enterprises.5 In 2017, the FDA warned a Florida clinic about violating manufacturing practices, which could put patients at risk for serious infection. The clinic had been using adipose tissue processed into stromal vascular fraction for diseases as diverse as COPD, Parkinson disease, and heart disease.5

Summary & Clinical Applicability

Stem cells may one day give patients with COPD the option of autologous transfer of adipose tissue to repair lung damage. As clinicians await further evidence, the trials currently underway will better elucidate the underpinnings of the disease.

Limitations & Disclosures


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  1. Bateman ME, Strong AL, Gimble JM, Bunnell BA. Concise review: using fat to fight disease: a systematic review of nonhomologous adipose-derived stromal/stem cell therapies. Stem Cells. 2018;36(9):1311-1328.
  2. Toraldo DM, Toraldo S, Conte L. The clinical use of stem cell research in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: a critical analysis of current policies. J Clin Med Res. 2018;10(9):671-678.
  3. Kim YS, Kim JY, Cho R, Shin DM, Lee SW, Oh YM. Adipose stem cell-derived nanovesicles inhibit emphysema primarily via an FGF2-dependent pathway. Exp Mol Med. 2017;49(1):e284.
  4. Gilpin SE, Wagner DE. Acellular human lung scaffolds to model lung disease and tissue regeneration. Eur Respir Rev. 2018;27(148).
  5. US Food and Drug Administration. FDA warns US Stem Cell Clinic of significant deviations. Silver Spring, MD: US Food and Drug Administration; August 28, 2017. Last updated March 27, 2018. Accessed September 19, 2018.