Stem cell therapy continues to evolve, pushing the boundaries of what is medically possible. Each month sees new evolutions, some of which are extremely surprising. One of the most interesting developments has been finding a link between bees, and more specifically, royal jelly, and stem cell therapy in people.
What Is Royal Jelly?
The first question that needs to be answered is: What is royal jelly? Royal jelly is a substance that drone honeybees produce. These honeybees then feed this substance to larvae that will eventually develop into queen bees. Royal jelly is made up of many different substances, including water, proteins, sugar, and various vitamins. Royal jelly that is fed to potential queen bees seems to be the source of these queen bees’ larger than average size. These queen bees have many more cells than their drone counterparts, and science seems to believe that this is the result of the almost mythical royal jelly.
And, it is not just that the queen has more cells, she also seems to have more stem cells, especially during the early stages of her development.
However, the science behind what has happened with these bees and how this science could potentially be applicable to humans has remained a mystery for years … until recently when Stanford University researchers made a breakthrough.
The Science Behind Royal Jelly
As noted above, royal jelly is a complex substance that contains many different elements from water to sugar and onto essential vitamins. However, the key substance within royal jelly is royalactin. Stanford researchers found that royalactin stops stem cells from differentiating. This means that stem cells will continue to reproduce themselves over and over. And, if stem cells are the key to various medical breakthroughs, then if this reproduction could be harnessed it would potentially have a significant impact on medical treatments.
This study was grounded in the long-held scientific belief that royalactin was likely a highly beneficial substance that required further rigorous scientific inquiry. And, like with many scientific studies, scientists started by exploring the impact that royalactin had on mice. Because of the cost and difficulty of using real royalactin, scientists created an artificial royalactin that mirrored what real honey bee royalactin is. Once this substance was injected into the mice subjects, scientists noted that their stem cell counts exploded, as the cells continued to reproduced themselves over and over again.
As with any early stage study, scientists recommend using caution. These results may or may not be extendable to people.
Royalactin and People
Researchers explained that the success with the mouse experiment was primarily driven by a lock-and-key scenario. The royalactin served as the key to unlock a cellular process in mice that allowed for this rapid reproduction of stem cells. Recognizing this, scientists decided to look for a mouse key that would also unlock the same process (and not rely on royalactin). This meant looking for a protein in mammals that had similar properties to royalactin. This investigation yielded only one protein, regina. This was a substance that scientists knew very little about, because it was only seen in very early stages of human development and had not provoked significant scientific interest.
Stanford researchers believe that the discovery of regina, coupled with further research into royalactin, will offer a wide range of benefits for patients. For example, a patient who has recently undergone a complex surgery could receive an injection of regina into the surgical site. Ideally, this regina would stimulate the production of more stem cells, and this would hopefully boost the healing process, speeding it up, and minimizing potential complications. However, scientists are quick to caution that far more research needs to be carried out on regina so that there is a better understanding of potential risks and benefits of using this treatment approach. And, therefore, it may be years until it is actually approved for and used in surgical treatment.
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Surgery is likely not the only application for regina. The Stanford team points out that it could also be an effective treatment tool for a host of other medical issues, such as stroke and Alzheimer’s treatment, as well as in other traumatic situations.
While more complex testing is still underway, regina and royalactin may be useful in other ways. The Stanford team suggests that these two substances may be great as stem cell renewal factors. What are stem cell renewal factors? These factors are substances that are added to cultures to keep stem cells from differentiating into specific types of cells. Renewal factors ensure that stem cell cultures will be able to grow and multiply as quickly as possible in an undifferentiated state. Researchers expect that regina and royalactin may be even more effective stem cell renewal factors than the substances that are currently used for a variety of reasons. But, again, more rigorous research will need to be carried out to reach a definitive conclusion.
Scientific researchers are constantly looking to push the envelope with stem cell research and therapy, searching for ways to ensure that these treatment modalities will be increasingly effective for people with a broad range of illnesses and injuries. One potentially interesting breakthrough that was recently announced was new information about royalactin. Royalactin is a substance that is found in the royal jelly of honey bees (a substance that is fed to the queen bees in colonies) and that allows queen bees to grow at a rapid rate and have a higher than anticipated level of stem cells.
For years, doctors and researchers have been interested in gaining a better understanding into royalactin and what it may or may not do for the human body. And, even though some patients have used royal jelly (which contains royalactin) as a seeming miracle cure for a host of ailments, there has been little scientific research to back up some of these claims. In fact, many scientists dismissed the claims that royal jelly was a cure-all as simply hogwash. This was until Stanford University researchers began to explore royalactin in more detail.
These researchers discovered that royalactin had a similar impact in mice test subjects as it did on bees. When mice were exposed to royalactin, the stem cells in their body reproduced at an extremely high rate and remained undifferentiated. And, this was just the first of their discoveries. From there, the researchers determined that there is a similar subject to royalactin in mammals. This substance is called regina, a previously largely unexplored protein.
Further research needs to be carried out into both royalactin and regina and its impact on people. However, researchers believe that ultimately it could be highly effective in stimulating growth and cellular repair in the human body after surgery or after a catastrophic event, such as a stroke, opening up new treatment options. It could also ultimately be used to treat degenerative conditions, such as Alzheimer’s Disease. However, this is a longer-term plan. In the short-term, royalactin and regina may be highly effective stem cell renewal factors, allowing stem cell cultures to grow and remain undifferentiated for an extended period of time. And, ultimately, royalactin and regina may replace other substances that have traditionally been utilized as stem cell renewal factors.
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