In people with asthma, the cells that line the airways in the lungs are unusually shaped and “scramble around like there’s a fire drill going on.” But according to a study at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, an unexpected discovery suggests intriguing new avenues both for basic biological research and for therapeutic interventions to fight asthma.
The findings could also have important ramifications for research in other areas, notably cancer, where the same kinds of cells play a major role.
Until now, scientists thought that epithelial cells — which line not only the lung’s airways but major cavities of the body and most organs — just sat there motionless, like tiles covering a floor or cars jammed in traffic, said Jeffrey Fredberg, professor of bioengineering and physiology at the Harvard Chan School and one of the senior authors of the study, which was published online Aug. 3 in Nature Materials. But the study showed that, in asthma, the opposite is true.