Research highlight

Stem cells: Modelling SARS-CoV-2 lung infection in a dish


November 25, 2020

A human lung culture system that can be used to model lung infections, including the SARS-CoV-2 infection responsible for COVID-19-associated pneumonia, is described in Nature.

Lung stem cells, which can regenerate lung tissue, have the potential to produce laboratory lung culture models that can be used to study lung disease, cancer and infection. However, our limited understanding of human lung stem cells has hindered the development of such models; in particular, of models of the most distal parts of the lungs, where gas exchange takes place.

Calvin Kuo and colleagues report the successful generation of distal human lung culture models from a subset of human lung cells. These models help them identify cells that may act as progenitors for adult lung tissue. They go on to show that the lung models, which express the SARS-CoV-2 entry receptor ACE2, can be infected with the virus and used to study COVID-19-related lung disease. The authors conclude that their lung tissue cultures provide a model for studying human lung disease and could facilitate tissue engineering applications.

doi: 10.1038/s41586-020-3014-1

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