These new functions could change everything.
Everyone knows the main purpose for lungs because we use them every second of everyday; in a nutshell, the pair of organs are for respiration, so that most beings can inhale and exhale. Since this is so important, it’s been assumed that this is the entirety of what lungs can do and, aside from testing the lungs for other things that affect them, such as cystic fibrosis or the effects of smoking, not much else has been discovered about their basic use. Until now.
Scientists know that there is still a ton that humans don’t know about how the world or universe works. That’s what make science so great: there’s always something new to learn about ourselves, others, and our surrounding environment. That being said, it’s also difficult to determine what’s worth investigating, even if we already know so much about a particular subject, like the lungs.
Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco recently decided to take a second look at the lungs and found something that’s never been discovered before. When observing the lungs of mice, they learned that the organs have the bonus feature of being able to help make blood. Their lungs apparently produce over half of the platelets in circulation, which is what is needed to bind the blood together and stop bleeding when we’re wounded.
“This finding definitely suggests a more sophisticated view of the lungs – that they’re not just for respiration but also a key partner in formation of crucial aspects of the blood,” senior author Mark Looney, a professor of medicine at UCSF, said in a statement.
As if that weren’t enough, the researchers also found stem cells in the lungs as well. Stem cells are the controversial cells that can be programmed to develop into any type of cell, and were previously thought to only come from the bone marrow. With this expanded use of the lungs, this means that even those with compromised bone marrow could have stem cells taken from their lungs in order to be used to manufacture more blood cells, if needed.
At this point in time, all of these functions have been found in mouse lungs but, since the information is so new, has not yet been identified in humans. Since mice, genetically and biologically, resemble humans in many ways, it’s possible that the platelet production and stem cell cache are not exclusive to the tiny mammals. With this new discovery, it’s likely that researchers will soon delve into the physiology of humans and determine if that same is found within us.
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