This year’s Cycle of Giving will be powering the work of one of our young researchers; Kenneth Sinclair.
Currently, there are close to 1600 Australians on the waiting list for organ and tissue transplants. Of these, up to 200 are waiting for a lung transplant, and plenty more lung disease sufferers need to be put on the waiting list. In the meantime, every breath they take can be a struggle, and so it’s important we figure out better ways to source and transplant organs.
Ken looks specifically at lungs, and wants to close the gap between people needing transplants and the number of organs available. He says there are three ways his project looks to fix this:
1. By increasing the life of donated organs
2. By reducing the number of people who need transplants
3. By building organs from scratch
One way in which the number of individuals who require a transplant can be reduced is by treating their underlying condition. The challenge is some diseases such as idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis have no known cause and the development of effective therapies is thereby made very difficult – how can you prevent something, if you don’t know what’s causing it?
Ken’s research suggests some of these diseases are caused by the deficiency or dysregulation of stem cells which reside within the lung. There are two key types of cells that can be found in your lungs; structural cells (that make up the ‘house’ of the lungs) and functional cells (that control everything that goes on inside them).
By researching the relationship between structural and functional cells in lungs, he believes he can treat the untreatable. While previously scientists thought the structural cells were purely there to keep the lungs in place, they’ve found that these cells (known as mesenchymal stem cells) are actually in charge of giving the functional cells instructions; kind of like a foreman on a building site.
For unknown reasons, some individuals appear to have an inherently reduced number of mesenchymal stem cells within their lungs. As a result, all the functional cells become uncoordinated and behave incorrectly giving rise to disease. This raises the question, “if stem cell deficiency causes disease; can replenishing the lung with stem cells reverse disease?”
Ken says funding is important, because “it’s about bridging the gap between what we have and what we need”.
Click here to hear Ken speak about the project.
Get involved in this year's Cycle of Giving to help raise funds for this study! Just $44 powers one whole hour of research. Click here to register for the event, or find out other ways to volunteer or donate.