3D modeling could help develop treatments for lung disease caused by COVID-19

By | September 14, 2020
2D and 3D models of lungs
In line with prior work, myofibroblasts fail to accumulate in soft 2D settings (left). In the new 3d model (right) the myofibroblasts (magenta) accumulate, even in soft conditions that mimic a healthy lung. Images are stained for cytoskeleton (blue), cell nuclei (yellow), and a marker for myofibroblast activation (alpha-smooth muscle actin, magenta). (Baker Lab)

A 3D bioengineered model of lung tissue built by U-M researchers is poking holes in decades worth of flat, Petri dish observations into how the deadly disease pulmonary fibrosis progresses. Some clinicians are concerned that critically ill COVID-19 patients may develop a form of pulmonary fibrosis after a long stay in the ICU. 

Researchers are searching for better treatments. While they’ve managed to find some drugs that relieve symptoms or slow the progression in practice, they can’t always replicate those results in today’s 2D lab models. So they don’t understand how or why those drugs are working, and they can’t always predict which compounds will make a difference. The new research from U-M takes a step in that direction, and it starkly demonstrates how prior approaches have been ineffective.