Japan Grows Mini Bronchi to Test COVID-19 Drug

    Japanese scientists created some miniature bronchi that can be used to study the pathogen causing COVID-19, and ultimately, help develop a drug that would cure it.

    The results, published on May 29, showcase bronchial “organoids” with a diameter of 0.2 millimeter, which took about 10 days to cultivate.


    Bronchi, singularly known as bronchus, are passageways of air in the respiratory system that extend from the trachea (windpipe) into the lungs.

    Researchers from the Center for iPS Cell Research and Application (CiRA) at Kyoto University — one of Japan’s top national universities — and other organizations developed the organoids from cryopreserved epithelial cells of human bronchi.

    Miniature bronchi created by researchers at Kyoto University’s Center for iPS Cell Research and Application (CiRA) and other organizations. Image via Center for iPS Cell Research and Application / Kyodo

    After creating the organoids, the researchers injected them with a virus that causes pneumonia and subsequently tested their interaction with the drug camostat.

    Camostat, officially camostat mesilate, is among the list of medications currently under study as possible treatments for COVID-19.

    Developed by Ono Pharmaceutical, camostat is a protease inhibitor that has been used primarily to treat pancreatitis, though a recent study revealed that it blocks an enzyme necessary for the entry of the coronavirus into the lungs.

    “It’s got a 35-year track record, so it seemed to be a very safe drug,” said Dr. Joseph Vinetz, a professor at the Yale School of Medicine, according to Reuters. “I said we’ve got to try it. I’m a physician and we’re desperate for anything we can give to people.”

    Camostat mesilate (Foipan). Image via 松岡明芳 (CC BY-SA 4.0)

    The researchers involved in the miniature bronchi study found that camostat is capable of reducing viral load. They are now testing other medications such as favipiravir, which previously received $128 million in government funding.

    “Since developing a drug (for COVID-19) is an urgent task, we chose a method that is simple and does not take time, without using iPS cells,” said Kazuo Takayama, a CiRA researcher who works on the study, according to Kyodo News. “We are hoping for a drug development using this research.”

    A container for polymerase chain reaction coronavirus tests using saliva. Image via Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (Japan) / Kyodo

    Japan, which previously received criticism for its lack of testing, also approved a safer and more convenient saliva test for COVID-19 on Tuesday.

    Covered by public health insurance, the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) coronavirus test kits must be used nine days after a patient has started exhibiting symptoms.

    “Both the burden on patients and sample-collecting institutions that need to protect staff from infections will be alleviated significantly,” said Health Minister Katsunobu Kato, according to The Mainichi.

    The test kits are available at outpatient departments of designated hospitals and PCR testing centers.

    Feature Images via Center for iPS Cell Research and Application / Kyodo (left) and 松岡明芳 (right; CC BY-SA 4.0)

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