COPD Lexicon: Stem Cell Therapy

Stem cell therapy has benefited people with other diseases. The dream is it will help people with COPD. The reality is this probably won’t happen for another 20 years or so. Still, given the potential here, it’s a good time to educate ourselves on this topic. So, here are some basic definitions to get us started.

Basic Definitions

Stem Cells

These are cells that are undifferentiated. They have the ability of self-renewal. Their job is to create new cells, regenerate existing cells, and repair injured cells.

Undifferentiated cells

These are your most basic cells. They have yet be told what type of cell to become. Eventually, they will be told to become specialized cells, such as lung cells.

Specialized cells

Mature cells.

Mature cells

Cells that have a specialized function, such as lung cells or heart cells or brain cells. They are also referred to as differentiated cells.


The ability to become a specialized type of cell. The ability to become a mature cell, such as a lung cell or heart cell.

Differentiated cells

Mature cells. Specialized cells.


The ability to divide and make exact replicates of themselves. The ability to replicate. Stem cells divide to create two stem cells. Or, they divide to create one stem cell and one mature cell. Or, they divide to create two mature cells. This is kind of a key to life, actually. It’s what keeps organs healthy.


The ability of stem cells to create differentiated cells. The ability of stem cells to become mature cells, like lung cells.


Stem cells that can become almost any cell type. A good example here is embryonic stem cells, which can become almost any type of cell you want.


Stem cells that can only become one type of cell. Cells from airway lung tissue only become airway lung cells. Cells from alveoli only become alveoli.


Stem cells that can become more than one type of cell. Usually, it refers to differentiating into 2 or three types of cells. In our case, it’s lung stem cells that can differentiate into the airway or alveolar cells

Embryonic Stem Cells

These are stem cells from an embryo. These are the most potent stem cells. They are pluripotent.

Adult (Somatic) Stem Cells

These are stem cells from actual tissues, such as lung tissue. They may also be referred to as Tissue Stem Cells. These are less potent than embryonic stem cells. But, while some are unipotent, others are multipotent.

Lung Adult Stem Cells

These are adult stem cells from lung tissue. They remain inactive until lung tissue becomes injured. When an injury occurs, they replicate. They then replace or repair lung tissue. One theory is that, when you have a disease like COPD, they cannot replicate fast enough to keep up.


The ability of stem cells and cells to divide and make exact copies of themselves. It’s the ability to multiply. Most stem cells will proliferate on their own. However, it’s usually at a controlled rate. For instance, lung stem cells proliferate when needed to repair and replace damaged stem cells. But, it’s usually not fast enough to keep up with the damage caused by diseases like COPD. In a lab, these stem cells can be inserted into a certain environment that encourages them to rapidly proliferate.


This is where stem cells are extracted from lung tissue. They are placed in some sort of growth factor or an environment that encourages them to proliferate. They are stimulated and thereby encouraged to differentiate into specialized cells. In our case, this would be airway and alveolar cells (lung cells). At the present time, the lab is the only place stem cells have been tested for lung diseases.

Stem Cell Therapy

Once there are millions of lung stem cells, they are drawn up into a syringe. They are then injected into a mouses venous blood system. They then travel to the mouse’s lungs where they replace or repair damaged lung tissue. This type of therapy has proven successful for some medical conditions. However, as noted, it has yet to be tested on humans. But, you can see here that this treatment certainly shows promise.

Lung regeneration

One goal of stem cell therapy is to repair and replace injured lung tissue.  It’s the hope that this will help reduce lung inflammation, fibrosis of airways, and loss of lung tissue. The goal is to improve lung function and to improve the quality and length of life for those living with COPD.

Lung Transplantation

Another goal is to use stem cells to grow lungs in a lab. At the present time, lung transplants for COPD are rare. This is because there are only so many donated lungs to go around. The potential exists here to grow lungs in a lab. So, this is another possibility.

What to make of this?

So, these are just some basic terms of stem cell research. This should give you a better understanding of stem cell research. It should also arm you in your quest to learn more about this exciting potential treatment for COPD.

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