Advancing the Science

Mayo Clinic Medical Science Blog – an eclectic collection of research- and research education-related stories: feature stories, mini news bites, learning opportunities, profiles and more from Mayo Clinic.

March 17, 2020

Regenerating missing bacteria for healthier lungs

By Jennifer Schutz
medical illustration of lungs with both healthy tissue and diseased tissue expanded illustrations

Connection to COVID-19

People with COPD are at a greater risk of contracting COVID-19, and likely to experience much worse cases than people with healthy lungs.

To help alleviate concerns, the COPD Foundation has set up a continuous blog with expert answers to questions related to COPD.

In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have published special guidelines for people at risk of serious illness from COVID-19.

Mayo Clinic's complete set of COVID-19 related news and information

While much of the world - including Mayo Clinic - is focusing on finding solutions to emerging issues around COVID-19, our researchers also are continuing to pursue other questions in health care.

One such research project is not as unrelated as you might think -- Mayo researchers are seeking a cause and regenerative approach to treatment for one of the most common and deadly forms of lung disease. For these patients, contracting COVID-19 could be a death sentence.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) refers to a group of lung diseases that makes it difficult to breath. It is also known as emphysema and chronic bronchitis. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, COPD is the fifth leading cause of death in Minnesota, and 50% of Minnesotans with COPD are undiagnosed. Through a grant from Regenerative Medicine Minnesota, Mayo Clinic immunologist Veena Taneja, Ph.D., is researching regenerative methods to treat COPD.

The research, currently being done in mice, is looking at the role of smoking as a cause of COPD. Dr. Taneja’s team has developed an expedited model of cigarette smoke-induced COPD in mice that express human immune genes and mimic human immune response.  

“Although initially thought sterile, healthy lungs have diverse bacteria, and individuals who have a history of smoking and have been diagnosed with COPD are missing a bacterium that is typically present in healthy individuals,” says Dr. Taneja. “We’ve been able to isolate and reintroduce the missing human oral bacterium in to the lungs of mice to correct the microbial imbalance in our laboratory.”  

If successful this research could lead to a better understanding of how the human body uses endogenous bacteria that naturally present in the body to heal from within. The treatment could ease symptoms, improve lung function, and stabilize the immune system to decrease inflammation.

“Since we plan to create a balance with the bacteria already residing inside every human, it is anticipated that treatment should not result in major side effects,” adds Dr. Taneja.

Learn more about Dr. Taneja’s research in the video below:

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A version of this story first appeared on the Center for Regenerative Medicine blog.

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Tags: Awards, basic science, Center for Regenerative Medicine, COPD, COVID-19, discovery research, lung disease, People, Regenerative Medicine Minnesota, republished, Veena Taneja

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