Jingyi Xia, Graduate Student (Baker Laboratory), Biomedical Engineering, University of Michigan
Normally, our lungs can expand and contract as we breathe in oxygen and expel carbon dioxide and other gases as we breathe out. However, lung damage, both long term damage caused by smoking or inhaling toxic substances as well as more acute damage caused by infectious agents such as COVID-19, can lead to stiffening of the tissue so that gas exchange becomes difficult. This happens because cells called fibroblasts, become overly active as they attempt in vain to quell the inflammatory response. These activated fibroblasts produce too much extra-cellular matrix, leading to scarring and tissue distortion, which impairs proper tissue function (air exchange). While mild pulmonary fibrosis can resolve, persistent fibrosis can lead to death. This image represents a picture of end stage lung fibrosis, when little to no normal air space is present.