Australian scientists have grown “human lungs” in the laboratory, meaning victims of potentially fatal viruses such as COVID-19 could receive faster treatments.
The research would minimise animal testing and fast-track drugs for human clinical trials.
CSIRO research scientist Dr Elizabeth Pharo says their lab-grown airway cells mimic the human airway’s response to viruses and can be used to quickly test whether antiviral treatments would work against a virus in humans.
“Clinical trials for new therapeutics can take significant time and money to establish, only for researchers to frequently discover that the treatment doesn’t work in people,” Dr Pharo said in a statement on Thursday.
“This way we can ‘fast fail’ antivirals before they get to the clinical trial stage, helping streamline the more promising ones through to human testing.”
Dr Pharo said the airway model could potentially be used to screen up to 100 antiviral compounds within three months and CSIRO is exploring ways to further accelerate screening, including the use of robotic technology.
The model could also be used to help study the characteristics of a virus and how it affects airway cells, helping reduce the need for animal testing.
“However, it cannot be used to study the more complex immune responses required to evaluate vaccine candidates,” the study, conducted at CSIRO’s Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness in Geelong, found.
Dr Pharo said scientists at ACDP are now using this model to characterise how the virus that causes COVID-19 infects and damages healthy donor airway cells, compared with cells from donors with asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or diabetes.
“It’s hoped this work will help improve our understanding of how COVID-19 may affect people with pre-existing lung conditions,” she said.
The findings are published in the journal Viruses.