Transdifferentiation occurs "naturally" in a disease process that mimics asthma and COPD.
In mice with a chronic lung condition resembling asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), the researchers saw that the airway lining maintained an overabundance of mucus-producing cells (called goblet cells for their cup-like shape). Further investigation showed that goblet-cell buildup resulted from two cellular mechanisms. One mechanism allows for the prolonged survival of cells with cilia, tiny hairs that help sweep debris out of the lungs. The other mechanism encourages the ciliated cells to transform into goblet cells.Transdifferentiation is bad, in this instance, but controlled, it would be a useful technology.
The second inhibitor the researchers tested interferes with signaling pathways activated by an immune-system protein known as interleukin-13 (IL-13). They found that IL-13 elicited the crucial change from ciliated to goblet cells in mouse airways and human airway cells in culture. Interfering with IL-13 prevented this transformation from one cell type to the other--a process known as transdifferentiation.