Saved By Stem Cells: Reversing Cigarette Smoke Damage

Posted on October 27, 2017


A study from the Imperial College of London has found that stem cells offer protective benefits for lung cells damaged by cigarette smoke. The study, performed in partnership with the University of Hong Kong, found that stem cell therapy can lessen oxidative stress in the mitochondria. The mitochondria is the component of the cell that converts nutrients into energy needed to carry out cell functions.

The results of the research mean potential new therapies for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, also known as COPD.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 15.7 million Americans live with COPD.

There are two types of COPD: chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Although smoking is the primary cause of COPD, other factors include environmental factors like pollution and exposure to lung irritants like dust or gases.

Effects of the condition include shortness of breath, wheezing and chronic cough. People with COPD also often experience hypertension and have a higher risk of developing pneumonia and other lung infections.

There is no cure for COPD, and conventional treatments only treat symptoms or keep patients comfortable.

People with COPD often experience a lesser quality of life because of their condition.

“COPD greatly limits the ability to be active, reduces the ability to exercise, and for some individuals impacts the ability to walk because the condition reduces oxygen,” Dr. Joel Singer, M.D., said.

Singer is a New York physician who treats patients with COPD and other lung diseases using adipose fat stem cell therapy.

The Impact of Cigarette Smoke on Lung Cells

The study analyzed the impact of cigarette smoke on the smooth muscle cells found in human lungs.

Cigarette smoke is damaging to the lung cells, and especially damaging to the mitochondria.

One of the effects of cigarette smoke on lung cells is inflammation.

Researchers also found that exposure to cigarette smoke produced free radicals and oxidative stress in the lung cells that cause the mitochondria to malfunction. When the mitochondria malfunctions, cells kill themselves off early through a process called apoptosis, or programmed cell death.

Researchers cultured lung cells and stem cells together in an environment of cigarette smoke in a laboratory. They found that when the lung cells and stem cells were cultured together and exposed to cigarette smoke, lung cells were less likely to die off through apoptosis.

The scientists also found that stem cells seemed to have a protective effect and reduced the damage to the lung cells’ mitochondria by decreasing oxidative stress.

Saving Lung Cells

After their observations in the laboratory, the researchers applied their test to mice. They induced oxidative stress in the mice using ozone, a gas that is damaging to lung cells. Once the ozone caused damage to the lung cells of the mice, researchers gave the mice an intravenous infusion of stem cells.

The result of the infusion was reduced inflammation and dysfunction of cells in mouse lungs within just 24 hours.

The potential of the study is promising for new therapies and shows the benefit of using stem cells to treat lung conditions.

“This study is fascinating because it shows that stem cell therapy helps to alleviate the symptoms of COPD that impact the quality of life of sufferers,” Singer said.

Singer uses stem cells taken from a patient’s adipose fat tissue to treat the lungs because the amount of stem cells found in fat is higher than stem cells found in other parts of the body. The cells are harvested from areas of high fat concentration, like the abdomen or thigh.

People with COPD who undergo stem cell therapy for lung conditions like COPD report seeing improvements in their health within just a few days of their first procedure.

“Using a larger amount of stem cells provides a greater anti-inflammatory and healing effect, so patients begin to breathe easier and feel able to increase activity,” Singer Said.


Imperial College London. Stem cells could offer hope for patients with lung damage from COPD and asthma. Imperial College London. 27 September 2017.



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