Infants born prematurely often suffer from poor lung development and can face life-threatening consequences. In order to provide novel treatments for these babies, we must first understand how cells of the lung differentiate and grow. But there are large knowledge gaps that must first be filled. Denise Al Alam, PhD, leads a team that studies development of the lung on a molecular and cellular level.
A new study, published online in European Respiratory Journal, marks an important milestone. "This is one of the very first studies looking at how the human lung develops at the single cell level," says Dr. Al Alam. The study tracked the fate of these cells over time, showing a trajectory of cell development. Knowing when certain cell types are differentiating gives investigators a very detailed, time-lapse map to lung development.
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Dr. Al Alam's team focused on the development of two types of cells in the lung. Airway smooth muscle cells line structures such as the trachea, bronchial tubes, and smaller branches. Vascular smooth muscle cells are found in the walls of blood vessels. Both types of cells add muscle tone and stability while also mediating necessary movement within these structures. But they are often implicated in different disease pathways.
"The problem is that...
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