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UC San Diego scientists create mini-lungs to better understand and possibly treat COVID

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Posted at 11:14 PM, Sep 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-09 09:14:30-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - It's a stark white room filled with scientists in white coats at UC San Diego who are testing samples, peering into microscopes and checking on models.

They're all working in the name of science and helping people.

"When the pandemic hit, we wanted to be a part of something that would really help the community,” Courtney Tindle, Staff Director At Humanoid CORE at UCSD, said.

Tindle is one of the researchers at the Humanoid CORE team at the university, which specializes in finding better ways of doing disease modeling and clinical trials.

In March 2020, their team keyed in on their new mission: find a way to better understand and possibly treat covid.

"So, let's test therapeutics on actual human cells before going to clinical trials. Because it seems like mouse models and things like usually lead us down the wrong path,” Tindle said.

To be able to do that…they created and developed something called mini lungs.

"It was pretty out of the blue and pretty exciting,” Ayden Fonseca, a staff research associate, said.

"We actually have lungs in a dish,” Tindle said.

"Literally, take a pretty large piece of tissue from a human. We break that tissue up into single cells. We put it in a dish and with the stem cells, they grow in structures that look like little mini organs."

So, they're testing how different therapeutics work and react to the virus that are in the mini-lungs.

It's a mission that research associates like Vanessa Castillo are more than willing to sign up for.

"I volunteered at a hospital during this pandemic. So, I had first had experience of what COVID was doing to patients. And, knowing that my research would one day hopefully help with this treatment and not actually have to live humans as a model, was definitely an eye-opening experience,” Castillo said.

These mini-lungs may not only be a big break-through for this pandemic but, possible other ones.

"There's always more diseases and different parts of therapeutics that can emerge from science,” Castillo said.

“So, learning that there are new variants has definitely pushed to be like okay what's the next step and how can we help the community now?"

The team recently had a paper of their finding published in the scientific research forum called eLife.

They still plan to better understand and study COVID, find possible treatments and hope to dive deep into the long-haul impacts of the virus.