Ongoing research into stem cells is producing encouraging results. Medical researchers believe that stem cells could be the key to treating a variety of different diseases. Almost every month a new study is released showing the potential benefits.
Right, stem cell treatments are still experimental. That could change one day soon. Most of the studies haven’t moved past the animal testing stage yet.
Stem Cells and Regeneration
Researchers believe that they’ve discovered a way to help the body’s blood cells regenerate faster. A certain type of stem cells can be prodded into producing growth factors that encourage the process. This treatment holds particular promise for cancer patients who have to undergo chemotherapy.
The study authors grew mesenchymal stems cells (MSCs) on a surface similar to bone marrow. The environment was similar enough for the researchers to be able to coax the cells into producing progenitor blood cells that will eventually become white and red blood cells.
“You can think about it like you’re trying to grow a plant,” Krystyn Van Vliet, the Michael and Sonja Koerner Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology said. “The MSCs are coming in and improving the soil so that the progenitor cells can start proliferating and differentiating into the blood cell lineages that you need to survive.”
Using mice, researchers were able to prove that injecting MSCs into the animals helped them heal faster.
“The mouse studies were models of radiation therapy commonly used to kill cancer cells in the clinic. However, these therapies are highly destructive and also destroy healthy cells as well,” one of the researchers explained. “Our mechanoprimed MSCs can help to better support and regenerate those healthy bone marrow cells faster in these mouse models, and we hope the same results would translate to humans.”
Stem Cells and Mini Retinas
Scientists managed to grow mini retinas from stem cells. They’re interested in studying the development of the human eye. Their research could eventually lead to a cure for blindness. The condition is a result of damaged connections between the eye and the brain. Called retinal organoids, the mini retinas grow in a similar manner to real ones. They’re created using human pluripotent stem cells.
“There’s a lot we have to understand about these cells outside of the body before we can put them into humans for transplants and treating those diseases,” said Clarisse Fligor, one of the study’s authors. “This research is looking at ways that we can encourage growth of these cells for possible cell-replacement therapies to treat these different injuries or diseases.”
Certain proteins found in the eye are mostly expressed during the early days of human development. Simply trying to transplant stem cells into the patient’s eyes hasn’t worked because no one has been to able to restore the early connections in the brain.
“If we want to be able to use these cells for therapies and encourage the proper wiring of these cells within the rest of the nervous system, perhaps we need to take a page out of the playbook of human development and try to re-create some of those features ordinarily found during early human development,” Jason Meyer, an associate professor of biology in the School of Science Indiana University-Purdue University, said.
The mini retinas currently can’t be transplanted into a human body. However, the study authors hope that they’ll one day be able to rewire the cells so they’re not rejected by the brain.
Generating Brain Stem Cells
Scientists from Case Western University have discovered a new way to produce important brain stem cells. They hope that their discovery will lead to a greater understanding of the brain’s functions. If successful, they might be able to develop new treatment options.
Myelin, a substance produced certain cells called oligodendrocytes, coats your brain fibers and stimulate electrical signaling. Scientists suspect that many of the brain’s function rely on oligodendrocytes. However, in order to study them in the lab scientists have been stuck with using expensive, mutant mice. The Case Western Reserve team’s new method solves the problem.
“Making these specialized brain stem cells on a large scale at high purity from pluripotent stem cells gives us a powerful tool to study previously inaccessible normal and diseased tissues in the central nervous system,” said Paul Tesar, PhD, the Dr. Donald and Ruth Weber Goodman Professor of Innovative Therapeutics and associate professor of genetics and genome sciences at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. “We applied our technology to genetic models of myelin disease, which resulted in the discovery of a chemical compound that helps diseased myelin-producing cells to survive.”
Their discovery has already shown some use. There’s a fatal genetic disorder known as Pelizaeus Merzbacher disease (PMD). It affects the body’s myelin production. Sufferers have problems with their learning and motor skills. They usually die before they reach adulthood.
The new method might help patients produce regular myelin.
Brain stem cells are very important because neural diseases have such a big effect on patients’ quality of life. If your brain isn’t functioning correctly, it’ll be hard to do everything in life.
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Cancer Stem Cells and Normal Genes
Normal proteins and molecules behave differently when cells become cancerous. Researchers at the University of Colorado Cancer Center determined that certain proteins can stimulate tumor growth. They believe that the cells could potentially be responsible for colon cancer, pancreatic cancer, and melanomas.
The study authors went so far as to suggest that the cells might be treatment-resistant and one of the reasons why cancer returns after chemotherapy. CDK1 is a protein that regulates the cell cycle and allows for replication. In healthy cells, this function is desired. In cancerous cells with CDK1, the ability turns to a weapon.
Stem Cells and Bone Cartilage
Stanford University researchers have identified the human skeletal stem cell. The cells can be extracted from bones or created by a certain type of fat cells. It’s an important discovery because it could one day help people with bone and cartilage issues.
“Every day, children and adults need normal bone, cartilage and stromal tissue,” said Michael Longaker, a Stanford professor of plastic and reconstructive surgery.
“There are 75 million Americans with arthritis, for example. Imagine if we could turn readily available fat cells from liposuction into stem cells that could be injected into their joints to make new cartilage, or if we could stimulate the formation of new bone to repair fractures in older people.”
The skeletal stem cells are a new, distinct type of cell. It can grow into progenitor muscle, bone, and cartilage cells. Being able to easily regenerate or repair bone would be a huge boon for vertebrates.
Stem Cells Conclusion
Stem cell research is thriving. The treatments aren’t ready to be introduced to the public but interested patients can seek out clinical trials.