24 January 2023

Stem cells help immature lungs on their way

Children born prematurely often have problems with their lungs. Can stem cells help repair their damaged lungs? Biologist Tim Wolfs is researching it with support from Longfonds (Lung Fund).

Less oxygen needed

For the first phase, Wolfs already has results. 'We see that the lambs that receive stem cells need less extra oxygen in the first days after birth. In addition, the lungs also develop better. They produce more substances that cause better or new alveoli to form. Their immune system also works better than in lambs that have not received stem cells. You can see that because there is less inflammation in the lungs.

There is no treatment yet for lung damage in premature infants. Hopefully stem cells can help
Dr. Tim Wolfs


"As the lambs get bigger, we measure their lung function. We do that just like we do with young children. We let them breathe through a mask for a short time. This is not stressful for the animals. We measure the air going in and out of the lungs in the meantime. If the lungs are damaged or less well developed, the air doesn't go in as easily. We don't yet know if there really are differences between the group that gets stem cells and those that don't. We are investigating that right now.”

“What I would also really like to know is how the different measurements are related. If the lungs work less well in the ‘baby phase’, do you see this reflected in lung function later in life? And in the lung tissue when the sheep are adults? We will know this at the end of the study.”


It is, of course, great that the initial results are so positive. But is the treatment also safe? “We can also look at safety very closely in our study. During the study we follow the lambs from birth to adulthood. That gives us the chance to measure whether nothing really goes wrong, even in the long term.”

So far, the results are promising. “Stem cells seem to be a good way to address lung problems in premature infants. If all the results from the study remain so positive, we would like to start translating our findings to preterm infants.”

Read more about this study here.

This article was published by Longfonds. Read the original article, written by Jessica Brussee, here.