Researchers develop 3D alveoli-culturing tech to find Covid-19 infection mechanism .

Infectious disease

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A joint research team, led by the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), has developed technology to culture the Covid-19 virus in human alveoli created three-dimensionally in laboratories.

The success will help to explain Covid-19’s infection mechanism and develop treatments, KAIST said in a news release Monday.

From left, Drs. Joo Young-seok at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, Lee Joo-hyeon at the University of Cambridge, Choi Byeong-sun at National Institute of Health, Kou Gou-young at Institute for Basic Science, and Kim Young-tae at Seoul National University.
From left, Drs. Joo Young-seok at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, Lee Joo-hyeon at the University of Cambridge, Choi Byeong-sun at National Institute of Health, Kou Gou-young at Institute for Basic Science, and Kim Young-tae at Seoul National University.

According to Worldometer, an international site providing real-time statistics, the cumulative Covid-19 caseload worldwide topped 43.3 million as of Sunday, exceeded the 40 million landmark set on Oct. 18 in a week, showing signs of a second wave.

A model that simulates the human body usable in a laboratory is essential in developing a therapeutic agent based on an accurate understanding of disease mechanisms. However, related studies had run into limits, as researchers had difficulty infecting mice with Covid-19, and there were no available human alveoli to use in laboratories.

The joint research team has newly developed a 3D human alveolar model that can be continuously cultured. The model has made possible the study of the disease mechanisms of various respiratory viruses, including the Covid-19, using human lung cells in a laboratory. Researchers can also directly apply it to the development of treatments such as drug screening, according to the KAIST.

The research team found the conditions for stable and long-term 3D cultivation of human lung tissue obtained from surgical test materials. When the 3D alveoli were exposed to the Covid-19 virus, rapid proliferation occurred within six hours and completed infection. Still, the activation of the innate immune response of the lung took about three days.

“If we can expand the scale of the 3D human lung culture model, it will be useful for studying the infection mechanisms of various respiratory viruses, including the Covid-19,” said Joo Young-seok, a professor of KAIST Graduate School of Medical Science and Engineering. “Researchers can use the model to reveal mechanisms and develop medicine by using human lung cells in infectious disease studies.”

National Research Foundation of Korea, Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency, Institute for Basic Science, Seoul National University College of Medicine, European Research Council, Suh Kyungbae Foundation, and the Human Frontier Science Program supported the study.

The study, titled “Three-dimensional human alveolar stem cell culture models reveal infection response to SARS-CoV-2,” was published in the online edition of the journal, Cell Stem Cell last Thursday.