Special Stem Cells May Participate in Pulmonary Hypertension Lung Repair, Study Reports

Patricia Inácio, PhD avatar

by Patricia Inácio, PhD |

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PH lung repair

A small group of stem cells may help repair the lungs of those with pulmonary hypertension (PH), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and other lung conditions, according to a study.

The body may recruit very small embryonic-like stem cells (VSELs) from bone marrow to the bloodstream so they can reach areas to be repaired, the research suggested.

The study, “Very Small Embryonic-like Stem Cells Are Mobilized in Human Peripheral Blood during Hypoxemic COPD Exacerbations and Pulmonary Hypertension,” was published in the journal Stem Cell Reviews and Reports.

VSELs are rare cells and they can appear in several tissues, including the bone marrow. The study suggested that the body can recruit them from the places where they are located for organ repair.

Researchers hypothesized that VSELs could be mobilized to go from bone marrow to the bloodstream of PH patients. To test this notion, they calculated the number of VSELs in the blood, particularly in blood circulating in the lungs of patients with PH and hypoxic lung disease.

Fifty-nine participants were included in the study. Twenty-six had COPD, with or without hypoxemia, which is an abnormally low concentration of oxygen in the blood. Thirteen had PH. And 20 were controls with no respiratory or cardiovascular diseases.

The research team used a catheter in the right heart to calculate the number of VSELs in lung vasculature, or blood vessels leading to and from the lungs, and in peripheral blood, which circulates through the entire body.

They detected a significantly higher number of VSELs in COPD patients with low oxygen levels than in controls or in nonhypoxic COPD patients. The findings supported the notion that in hypoxia, or low oxygen conditions, VSELs are mobilized to go from bone marrow to blood circulation.

The team also found more VSELs in the peripheral blood of PH patients than in controls.

Overall, the results suggested that the body recruits VSELs to the bloodstream of those with PH or hypoxic COPD.

“VSELs may serve as a reservoir of pluripotent stem cells that can be recruited into peripheral blood and may play an important role in promoting lung repair,” the researchers wrote.

“Despite these promising results, a specific role of VSELs in vascular and lung repair remain to be analyzed in COPD and PH patients,” the team concluded.