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KAIST develops 'mini-organ' to reveal how COVID-19 damages lungs

Science 13:00 October 26, 2020

SEOUL, Oct. 26 (Yonhap) -- The Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) said Monday its researchers have found how the novel coronavirus destroys lung cells by developing a "mini-lung" using stem cell technology.

The university said its team at the Graduate School of Medical Science and Engineering, and other researchers from the U.K.'s Cambridge University and Seoul National University Hospital, succeeded in developing a 3D human alveolar stem cell culture model, the world's first, and used the mini-organ made from lung cells to reveal how the novel coronavirus impacts human lungs.

KAIST, South Korea's top science and technology university, said the joint team took on the project as research on coronavirus infections remained limited due to a lack of a lung cell model for laboratory settings, essential to develop treatment.

This file photo provided by the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology shows the university's building in the central city of Daejeon, 140 kilometers south of Seoul. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

The team exposed the "mini-lung" to severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), which leads to COVID-19, and found that the virus multiplied within six hours of exposure, leading to infection. The university said it took around three days for an innate immune response from the lung cells.

Researchers also found that a single particle of the virus could be enough to infect one cell and that some cells drastically lost their function on the third day of infection.

"If the 3D model is expanded in size, it can help research on various respiratory viral infections, including COVID-19," Ju Young-seok, an associate professor at KAIST who headed the university's research team, said.

The joint research was published in the online version of scientific journal Cell Stem Cell on Thursday.

The country's National Institute of Health, the state-run Institute for Basic Science, and GENOMEinSight, a biomedical science firm run by Ju, also took part in the research, according to KAIST.

Nearly 43 million COVID-19 cases have been reported globally as of Monday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.


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