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‘Mini-lungs’ reveal early stages of SARS-CoV-2 infection

last modified Oct 26, 2020 01:44 PM
‘Mini-lungs’ grown from tissue donated to Cambridge hospitals has provided a team of scientists from South Korea and the UK with important insights into how COVID-19 damages the lungs. Writing in the journal Cell Stem Cell, the researchers detail the mechanisms underlying SARS-CoV-2 infection and the early innate immune response in the lungs.

To date, there have been more than 40 million cases of COVID-19 and almost 1.13 million deaths worldwide. The main target tissues of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, especially in patients that develop pneumonia, appear to be alveoli – tiny air sacs in the lungs that take up the oxygen we breathe and exchange it with carbon dioxide to exhale.

To better understand how SARS-CoV-2 infects the lungs and causes disease, a team of scientists from the UK and South Korea turned to organoids – ‘mini-organs’ grown in three dimensions to mimic the behaviour of tissue and organs.

The team used tissue donated to tissue banks at the Royal Papworth Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge University NHS Foundations Trust, UK, and Seoul National University Hospital to extract a type of lung cell known as human lung alveolar type 2 cells. By reprogramming these cells back to their earlier ‘stem cell’ stage, they were able to grow self-organising alveolar-like 3D structures that mimic the behaviour of key lung tissue.

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