Immune Cells Offer Hope for Injured Lungs

Discovery in mice shows promise for treating potentially fatal wounds, researchers say

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MONDAY, Sept. 21, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- New research in mice is shedding light on how a special group of immune cells heal badly injured lungs. The next step is to find a way to boost the cells in patients or get them to work harder when needed, researchers say.

"Our study results are the critical first leads in finding treatments for a clinical condition that until now has had none, despite its high mortality," study senior investigator Dr. Landon King, director of pulmonary and critical care medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, said in a news release. "When a patient develops acute lung injury, we want the critical care medicine team to be able to do more than just stabilize the patient on a ventilator."

An estimated 200,000 Americans suffer from sudden acute lung injury each year. The causes include burns, car accidents that injure the chest, and cancer. About 75,000 of those injured die each year.

The injuries cause cells in the lungs to try to defend themselves by creating inflammation. But inflammation is a double-edged sword that can make it difficult to breathe.

The researchers, who report their findings online Sept. 21 in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, spent three years analyzing the immune response of the lungs in mice. They say their findings suggest the immune cells, white-blood cells known as Tregs, can be boosted to produce more healing.

In the future, the researchers hope to gain a better understanding of how the cells work to repair lung injuries and find ways to control the process through drugs.

More information

Learn more about common lung injuries from Oregon State University.

SOURCE: Johns Hopkins Medicine, news release, Sept. 21, 2009

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