There has been increasing excitement over the last few years with the suggestion that exogenous stem cells may offer new treatment options for a wide range of diseases. Within respiratory medicine, these cells have been shown to have the ability to differentiate and function as both airway and lung parenchyma epithelial cells in both in vitro and increasingly in vivo experiments. The hypothesis is that these cells may actively seek out damaged tissue to assist in the local repair, and the hope is that their use will open up new cellular and genetic treatment modalities. Such is the promise of these cells that they are being rushed from the benchside to the bedside with the commencement of early clinical trials. However, important questions over their use remain and the field is presently littered with controversy and uncertainty. This review evaluates the progress made and the pitfalls encountered to date, and critically assesses the evidence for the use of stem cells in lung disease.

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