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U researchers turn cord blood into lung cells

David McKenna, M.D.

In research likely to improve understanding of lung development and disease, University researchers have coaxed umbilical cord blood stem cells to differentiate into a type of lung cell.

These lung cells, called type II alveolar cells, secrete surfactant, a substance that allows air sacs in the lungs to stay open so air can flow in and out. They also help to repair injuries to the airway.

“In the future, we may be able to examine cord blood from babies with lung diseases, such as cystic fibrosis, to do research on how these diseases evolve as well as to develop better medical treatments,” says David McKenna, M.D., assistant professor of lab medicine and pathology and medical director of the Clinical Cell Therapy Lab at the University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview.

McKenna and his team first isolated the Multi-Lineage Progenitor Cell™ (MLPC™) from umbilical cord blood. This stem cell can be expanded in culture, then differentiated into the three types of embryonic tissue—endoderm, mesoderm, and ectoderm. McKenna’s group cultured the MLPC™ and differentiated it into the lung cells, an endoderm-type cell, which exhibited key markers present in type II alveolar cells.

Their research paper appeared in the November 7, 2006, issue of the journal Cytotherapy.

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