Breathing depends on lung tissue surface area. When blood circulating through the lungs reaches the alveoli, this is where the blood discharges its waste product – CO2 – and picks up oxygen. When lung cells are damaged, the useable surface area is decreased, which means that less CO2 is scrubbed out of the blood and less oxygen is taken in. The air we breathe only contains about 21% oxygen; 78% is nitrogen with the rest including hydrogen, carbon dioxide, helium, argon, and neon. You’ll often see people with lung tissue damage wearing those clear plastic tubes in their noses that are connected to an oxygen tank. The oxygen tank delivers breathing air with a much higher percentage of oxygen available so their lungs don’t have to work so hard. If you’ve ever experienced really bad chest congestion or pneumonia, you have a little bit of an idea how disturbing it is to have diminished lung function. People with lung tissue damage – like emphysema – feel this way all the time.

Currently, the only way to “cure” lung tissue damage is to replace them with a transplant. But now, thanks to research being done at Boston Children’s Hospital, there is exciting new hope! Researchers there have discovered a way to activate lung stem cells to become the type of cells that are damaged. Using mice with lung fibrosis (lung tissue replaced with scar tissue), they injected the thrombospondin-1 (TSP-1) protein, which seems to be involved in cellular repair, into damaged lungs – and it reversed the damage!

This discovery is exciting news for people like me who have watched family members struggle with lugging around oxygen tanks and wearing those awful oxygen tubes on their faces!

By the way – see the picture? Those are alveoli cells!

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