New Treatments for Cystic Fibrosis

European Research Council (ERC) support helped scientists at the University of Cambridge successfully create ‘mini-lungs’ using stem cells derived from skin cells of patients with cystic fibrosis. These are being used to test potential new drugs for this debilitating lung disease.


The research is one of a number of studies that have used stem cells – the body’s master cells – to grow ‘organoids’, 3D clusters of cells that mimic the behaviour and function of specific organs within the body. Scientists use the technique to model how diseases occur and to screen for potential drugs; they are an alternative to the use of animals in research.

Researchers at the Wellcome Trust-Medical Research Council Cambridge Stem Cell Institute were able to recreate embryonic lung development in the lab.

“In a sense, what we’ve created are ‘mini-lungs’,” explains Dr Nick Hannan, who led the study.

“They are grown from human cells and so can be more reliable than using traditional animal models, such as mice. We can use them to learn more about key aspects of serious diseases – in our case, cystic fibrosis.

“We’re confident this process could be scaled up to enable us to screen tens of thousands of compounds and develop mini-lungs with other diseases such as lung cancer and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

“This is far more practical, should provide more reliable data and is also more ethical than using large numbers of mice for such research.”

The research was primarily funded by the European Research Council, the National Institute for Health Research Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre and the Evelyn Trust.

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