About 140,000 men and women in the U.S. have pulmonary fibrosis (PF) , a progressive disease that occurs when thick, stiff scar tissue forms in the lungs, making it difficult to breathe. [1] Scar tissue forms around the tiny air sacs called alveoli that enable gas exchanges to occur between blood and the lungs. People with PF often have low levels of oxygen in their blood, especially in advanced stages of the disease, which can cause additional organ damage.

The disease typically affects people between the ages of 50 and 75 years, and while the disease may progress slowly in some people, others don’t survive beyond five years from the initial diagnosis unless they have a lung transplant. While there is no cure, recent research in the advancement of adult stem cell therapy has shown that restoration of damaged and dying cells through is possible. PF does not have to be frightening and debilitating. Adult stem cell therapy is a treatment designed to help the body’s natural repair kit work more effectively.

What Are the Symptoms?

The most common symptoms of pulmonary fibrosis are shortness of breath and difficulty breathing, both of which grow much worse as the disease progresses. Other symptoms include [1]

  • dry, persistent cough
  • shallow breathing
  • gradual weight loss
  • fatigue
  • aching muscles or joints

Symptoms and their severity can vary from patient to patient; some people develop severe symptoms very quickly, while in others, the disease may take months or even years to become severe.

Traditional Management

Pulmonary fibrosis cannot be cured, and treatments are focused on slowing disease progression, reducing symptoms and maintaining quality of life. Medications may be prescribed to help reduce inflammation, and oxygen supplementation can help make breathing easier and more efficient when blood oxygen levels reach dangerously low levels. Oxygen can also help people be more active to help decrease anxiety and preserve lung function. Some patients with pulmonary fibrosis develop other problems, such as a collapsed lung, blood clots in the lungs (pulmonary emboli), lung infections, pulmonary hypertension and even lung cancer and heart failure.

Pulmonary rehabilitation is also typically prescribed, typically including breathing exercises, medical guidance and counseling to help patients cope with their disease and prognosis. In some patients younger than 65 years who have no other serious medical issues, lung transplant may be considered when medications are not effective. [2]

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For decades, stem cells have been explored for their use in ameliorating many diseases and chronic medical conditions since these cells have the innate ability to differentiate – or become – many different types of cells. In diseases that cause damage to the organs and other tissues, stem cells have been explored as a method of replacing damaged cells with new, healthy cells to improve organ function and even help reduce and heal scarred areas.

While early research focused solely on embryonic stem cells derived from umbilical cords, much of today’s research focuses instead on stem cells derived from a patient’s own tissues, usually bone marrow, blood or fatty tissue, called adipose tissue. These stem cells, also called adult stem cells or in some cases, mesenchymal stem cells, are multipotent, which means they also have the ability to change into different types of cells once injected into the body.

In addition to their ability to replace damaged cells with healthy, new cells, stem cells also act on the immune system, sending out signals to help faulty immune systems “reset,” an effect that has been studied extensively in diseases where abnormal immune responses play a role. Stem cells also appear to send out signals that prompt the development of other cells locally, and they can also help spur the growth of new blood vessels to help provide greater support to damaged tissues. Finally, stem cells have been shown to provide an anti-inflammatory benefit that may play a role in helping treat several types of lung diseases including pulmonary fibrosis. [3]

Suggested Reading:

3. Inamdar, AC, Inamdar, AA. Mesenchymal stem cell therapy in lung disorders: Pathogenesis of lung diseases and mechanism of action of mesenchymal stem cell. Experimental Lung Research. 2013;39(8):315-327. doi:10.3109/01902148.2013.816803.

A placebo-controlled, randomized trial of mesenchymal stem cells in COPD.
Weiss DJ, Casaburi R, Flannery R, LeRoux-Williams M, Tashkin DP.
Chest. 2013 Jun;143(6):1590-8. doi: 10.1378/chest.12-2094.

Mesenchymal stem cells in the treatment of chronic lung disease.
Wecht S, Rojas M.
Respirology. 2016 Nov;21(8):1366-1375. doi: 10.1111/resp.12911. Review

Therapeutic Potential of Mesenchymal Stem Cells for the Treatment of Airway Remodeling
in Pulmonary Diseases.
Nejad-Moghaddam A, Panahi Y, Abdollahpour Alitappeh M, Borna H, Shokrgozar MA, Ghanei
Iran J Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2015 Dec;14(6):552-68. Review

Cell-based therapy in lung regenerative medicine.
Yang J, Jia Z.
Regen Med Res. 2014 Apr 11;2(1):7. doi: 10.1186/2050-490X- 2-7. Review.

Biological effects and mechanisms of action of mesenchymal stem cell therapy in chronic
obstructive pulmonary disease.
Jin Z, Pan X, Zhou K, Bi H, Wang L, Yu L, Wang Q.
J Int Med Res. 2015 Jun;43(3):303-10. doi: 10.1177/0300060514568733. Review.

Pericytes in chronic lung disease.
Rowley JE, Johnson JR.
Int Arch Allergy Immunol. 2014;164(3):178-88. doi: 10.1159/000365051. Review.

Regulation of pulmonary inflammation by mesenchymal cells.
Alkhouri H, Poppinga WJ, Tania NP, Ammit A, Schuliga M.
Pulm Pharmacol Ther. 2014 Dec;29(2):156-65. doi: 10.1016/j.pupt.2014.03.001. Review.

Hematopoietic and mesenchymal stem cells for the treatment of chronic respiratory diseases:
role of plasticity and heterogeneity.
Conese M, Piro D, Carbone A, Castellani S, Di Gioia S.
ScientificWorldJournal. 2014 Jan 19;2014:859817. doi: 10.1155/2014/859817. Review

Novel therapeutic strategies for lung disorders associated with airway remodelling and fibrosis.
Royce SG, Moodley Y, Samuel CS.
Pharmacol Ther. 2014 Mar;141(3):250-60. doi: 10.1016/j.pharmthera.2013.10.008. Review.

Concise review: current status of stem cells and regenerative medicine in lung biology and
Weiss DJ.
Stem Cells. 2014 Jan;32(1):16-25. doi: 10.1002/stem.1506. Review.