Pulmonary fibrosis and COVID-19: real-time monitoring of tissue stiffness in a bioengineered model of fibrotic epithelium
As the world’s effort is currently centered on “flattening the curve” by practicing social distancing, performing widespread testing, and developing new drugs and vaccines, dealing long-term health issues for patients who recovered from the disease has become the next primary concern. Doctors who are leading clinical research projects on the long-term consequences of COVID‑19 are drawing a worrying picture of recovered patients with permanent lung, hearth, or kidney damage. X-Ray images of patients who have been treated in intensive care are showing pulmonary fibrosis-a chronic lung disease that occurs when lung tissue becomes damaged and scarred. Pulmonary fibrosis can lead to permanent shortness of breath (dyspnea), frequent dry cough, and fatigue. Furthermore, as pulmonary fibrosis progresses, it may lead to complications such as blood clots forming in the lungs, lung infections, and lung cancer. The goal of this proposal is to model infection-induced pulmonary fibrosis and quantify the evolution of tissue thickening and increased stiffness during infection using Rheolution’s non-invasive mechanical tester. To achieve this goal, we will collaborate with our industrial partner, Rheolution Inc., to recapitulate the pathophysiology of lung infection and monitor the evolution of tissue stiffness by real-time measurement of the mechanical properties of the engineered tissue. Furthermore, we will evaluate the prophylaxis efficiency of a few anti-inflammatory drug candidates in preventing the formation of fibrous tissue in the developed model. The application of this work is not limited to COVID-19. This platform can be used for other types of pulmonary infections, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, chronic respiratory failure, and lung cancer. The outcomes of this project will have significant implications not only in understanding the mechanisms underlying the disease progression and its long-term effects on the lung damage, but it can serve as a powerful tool for evaluating the effectiveness of novel antiviral and anti-fibrosis drugs that will be emerged in the future.