Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are extracted from bone marrow. The multipotent stem cells are critical for the development of bones and cartilage. The presence of MSCs in your blood is usually fairly small. However, researchers have learned how to isolate the cells in a laboratory setting.
Your bone marrow also contains hematopoietic (blood) stem cells but these are very different.
Mesenchymal Stem Cell Research
“Each year, there are 4,000 to 5,000 publications about MSCs on pubmed. It is a consistent upward trend and I don’t believe it is going to stop. Quite the opposite, I expect this field of research to grow,” PromoCell scientist Dr. Hagen Wieland explained.
MSC’s are popular because they’re easily accessible and they can differentiate into multiple distinct cells. Embryonic stem cell research is tinged with controversy, making it difficult for researchers to work with them. Studies that use MSC’s instead side-step all of those issues.
MSC’s were first discovered in 1968. They can be manipulated into turning into various cartilage, bone, adipose tissue cells. Embryonic stem cells, by contrast, are pluripotent which means that they can turn into any type of cell.
There are possible advantages to using MSCs. Pluripotent stem cells are prone to growing tumors.
“When you think of typical lifestyle-related diseases, such as arthritis, prolapsed discs, or osteoporosis – all of the affected cell lineages lie within the MSCs differentiation spectrum – and there have been promising studies that can help develop therapies to regenerate damaged tissue,” Wieland said.
“The heterogeneity of MSCs in the body is mirrored by the variety of applications in biomedical research.”
What are Researchers Investigating?
MSCs might be particularly useful in treating injuries to hard-to-repair injuries to your bone and cartilage.
Researchers also believe that MSCs might be able to help reduce inflammation and create new blood vessels. There’s evidence indicating that MSCs might be able to stabilize blood vessels. A few small studies have shown an immune effect after the blood was saturated with MSCs.
If they’re right, it means MSCs might be useful in treating autoimmune diseases. This is why science is so interested in the cells, they could revolutionize the field of medicine. Their potential benefits are still being understood.
Challenges of Mesenchymal Stem Cell Therapy
The benefits of MSC therapy aren’t clear. Scientists know that they have regenerative properties but the exact mechanism of how they help the body is unclear. Many scientists once believed that MSCs heal tissue by replacing old, damaged cells.
Researchers now believe that MSCs are powerful because of their ability to influence the immune system.
The lack of clear answers has led to confusion and controversies.
Mesenchymal Stem Cell Subpopulations
MSCs are very heterogeneous. Those with a higher differentiation potential are more valuable. Researchers are focusing on cell subpopulations with the most value. Using specific MSC subpopulations has led to success. Scientists were able to coax the cells into a specific shape.
The International Society for Cellular Therapy (ISCT) has determined that MSCs must meet specific criteria. These are: “(1) The cells have to grow adherently; (2) they must express particular surface markers, the classification determinant (CD) markers; (3) they need to show the ability to differentiate into three lineages…”
The group recommended that the phrase multipotent mesenchymal stromal cell be used instead if these requirements aren’t met.
Before you perform any experiment with MSC’s, you have to verify that you’ve accurately isolated them. It’s a slow, careful process that could take weeks.
Join our Stem Cell Discussion & Information Facebook Group today!
Mesenchymal Stem Cell Controversy
The intense interest in MSCs has created a backlash. Some scientists are even calling for the term to be banned, complaining that it’s meaning has been diluted beyond recognition. In 2017, nearly 4,000 peer-reviewed studies using the term “mesenchymal stem cells” appeared in scientific journals.
According to Pamela Robey, a stem cell biologist at the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, the term is being used to describe cells that weren’t extracted from bone marrow. Robey believes that the term is being thrown around to loosely. Robey and her colleagues went so far as to make a call for people to stop using the words.
“The name mesenchymal stem cells should not be used for anything. It’s just a completely bogus name,” Robey told The Scientist. “There are tissue-specific stem progenitor cells, which are wonderful things [and] get tossed into the MSC bucket, but using that term implies that they’re identical . . . and they just really are not.”
MSCs became really popular in the late 1990’s. The ISCT guidelines didn’t stick. Scientists could get the cells to differentiate into new cell types in vitro but not in vivo.
Robey’s caution doesn’t indicate that MSCs don’t work. She and her team simply want more precision in the terminology. A significant number of the stem cell clinics in the U.S. focus on MSCs.
The research has been very broad. RIKEN research institute’s Douglas Sipp complained that: “If you decide to search for . . . what mesenchymal stem cells are capable of, you can find a paper that’s been published and is searchable using Medline to superficially back up your claims.”
The problem is that MSCs could potentially be revolutionary. That means scientists should be very careful about what claims they’re making to patients. It’s easy to start exaggerating or to become too hopeful after a positive animal study.
Mesenchymal Stem Cell Future
Even the critics aren’t demanding that research into MSCs be halted entirely. The evidence is too promising.
“This is not one of these ‘one-hit wonders’ we sometimes observe in science. It shows consistent progress. In addition to stem cell research, scientists use MSCs, or the differentiated cell types, in diabetes, biomaterials, and cancer research,” Wieland said.
“There are even trials on using MSCs to support the regeneration of heart muscle after myocardial infarction. I’m sure there is still a lot to come.”
Patients who are interested in treatments with MSCs need to understand that they’re still experimental. If they’re willing to accept that, they can find a stem cell clinic that works with MSCs. Many patients seek the treatment for relief from bone and cartilage issues.
MSCs are useful for researchers as well. It’s expected that the number of MSC studies will continue to rise, despite some researchers’ hesitation about using the term.
Patients with autoimmune and neurological diseases should also look into MSC trials. Quite a bit of research is focused on using MSCs to treat autoimmune disorders. It would be groundbreaking if there was a successful human trial.
Mesenchymal stem cell subpopulations might be the key to treating multiple ailments. The cells are prized for their ability to differentiate into new, distinct cell lines. They’re believed by some to have a profound regenerative effect when injected into the body but it’s not clear exactly why.
Currently, MSC treatments are still experimental. That could easily change. There are so many MSC studies that scientists are beginning to complain that the phrase is being overused.
Patients who are interested in the treatment should find a reputable study to work with.
Learn More About Stem Cell Therapy
Download our FREE Stem Cell Report
Click below to download our free educational report, Stem Cell 101!