We already know about a host of diseases we can hope to battle more effectively using stem cells. Now I’ve just read about another inspired use of the seemingly limitless power of stem cells to help human beings battle disease.
Scientists have discovered a gene that’s present in many forms of cancer, according to a report on Google news via AFP (an international online news source). In this recent study they’ve been able to use human stem cells as the testing ground to see how this new gene relates to cancer.
The gene FOXM1, injected at higher-than-normal levels into stem cells from an adult human mouth, encouraged abnormal growth that mimicked the abnormal cell growth common with early cancer.
There is evidence that environmental and behavioral factors like UV ray exposure and smoking—the same stuff we’ve come to understand can result in cancer—can lead to increased levels of FOXM1.
I know this study doesn’t say this, but I’m very excited about the possibilities. How much faster may we be able to get to clinical trials for various treatments and drugs by using easily and readily available human stem cells as proving grounds instead of having to first experiment on animals and, later, pray that we’re getting it right with human beings.
Talk about a promising study…
If we needed any further proof of how far-reaching the effects of stem cell research can be on making medicine not only less invasive but also more efficient and effective, now comes another momentous discovery.
According to a BusinessWeek article, a couple of pharma companies have developed a way to use stem cells to develop “human” tissue (independent of a living, breathing person), and they’re using the tissue to test drugs for potentially dangerous side effects.
The cost to develop a new drug—which can in some cases exceed $4 billion—usually includes animal trials and then human trials. Researchers have found that stem-cell-generated tissue—they are regularly producing 7 billion heart cells a month from skin and blood stem cells (not embryonic)—mimics the reactions of actual human tissue. And that allows scientists to test drugs for bad effects long before human trials would normally be scheduled.
The happiest part of this report is that this isn’t just the promise of stem cells—this work is actually going on now. One of the pharma companies used the stem-cell tissue to re-test a drug they’d worked on earlier and discarded because of a bad side effect on test animals. They found the drug had exactly the same results on the stem-cell tissue as it had had on the animals. The company realized if it had had this capability back then, it could have stopped development much sooner and saved a bundle.
Consider the potential benefits of making full use of this capability:
- How much faster might useful drugs get through the pipeline and out to the patients who desperately need them?
- How much might the cost of new drugs come down with pharmaceutical companies saving millions of dollars in development costs?
- How many animal lives might be spared because research can be done on this “artificial” tissue instead of on rabbits or mice or chimps?
I say again, with stem cell miracles around every corner, we’ve at last discovered heaven’s own way of healing. And what we do with that power now and in the future will be limited only by our own imaginations .