Lab-grown mini-lungs mimic the real thing — right down to coronavirus infection

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      A team of Duke University researchers has developed a lab-grown living lung model that mimics the tiny air sacs of the lungs where coronavirus infection and serious lung damage take place. This advance has enabled them to watch the battle between the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus and lung cells at the finest molecular scale.

      The virus damages the delicate, balloon-like air sacs, known as alveoli, leading to pneumonia and acute respiratory distress, the leading cause of death in Covid-19 patients. But scientists have been hampered in Covid-19 studies by the lack of experimental models that mimic human lung tissues.

      Now, a team led by Duke cell biologist Purushothama Rao Tata has developed a model using “lung organoids,” also dubbed mini-lungs in a dish. The organoids are grown from alveolar epithelial type-2 cells (AT2s) which are the stem cells that repair the deepest portions of the lungs where SARS-CoV-2 attacks.

      Earlier research at Duke had shown that just one AT2 cell, isolated into tiny dishes, could multiply to produce millions of cells that assemble themselves into balloon-like organoids that look just like alveoli. However, the “soup” in which the cells were grown contained complex ingredients such as serum from cows that is not completely defined.

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