Lonza, a life sciences company located in Maryland, has created an infographic that clearly and simply illustrates a simple history of stem cell research. The graphic allows researchers to pinpoint areas their work is focused on and helps them more easily differentiate it from work being done elsewhere.
The Genetic Engineering and BioTechnology News website says the graphic illustrates a system approach that allows researchers to better control variables involved (between kits, media, cell batches). The hope is it will help them make sure data from their studies is accurate and reproducible.
Click here for the graphic itself.
Mouse embryonic stem cells. More lab photos (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Can’t keep up with all the exciting research going on with stem cells and gene therapy. I imagine many of the researchers might feel a little like a kid who just discovered clay – and found you can do almost anything with it.
First up is a project in which researchers identified why older creatures can take so long to recover from muscle injuries. They found that muscle stem cells in mice were not dividing and renewing themselves the way younger stem cells do.
So they found a way to reinvigorate the murine stem cells by blocking a substance known as p38 MAP kinase that appears to be critical in slowing stem cell division. The growing medium, soft hydrogel, is critical to the newly invigorated cells maintaining their “stemness.” They then injected the revunated stem cells into damaged muscles of elderly (two years old – about the same as 80 in humans) mice and found the muscles began substantially repairing themselves.
Next up, pigs who were suffering from heart block (their heart rate was too slow) were injected with a human gene into a tiny area of the pumping heart that allowed researchers to reprogram “heart muscle cells into a type of cell that emits electrical impulses to drive the beating heart.” The pigs’ heart rates were restored to normal for two weeks.
The hope is that these “biological pacemaker” cells will one day replace the devices we now insert into bodies that must have batteries replaced every 8 to 10 years. Read more about pacemaker gene therapy here.
English: Embryonic Stem Cells. (A) shows hESCs. (B) shows neurons derived from hESCs. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Scientists have come up with a new technique for using not just infant stem cells but also stem cells from older adults’ skin to develop treatments for many diseases. They pursued this angle because older adults’ DNA is more suitable to addressing conditions that tend to develop more frequently in older people such as diabetes, arthritis, and so on.
Good to see that the researchers have finally, after many years. found a way to create “embryonic” – meaning able to turn into any other type of human cells (plenipotent as opposed to multipotent) – stem cells without the controversial approach of taking them from discarded human embryos. Good news on all fronts.
This new approach could lead to building a genetic library of stem cells made from strong DNA. It could also be used to draw a patient’s own DNA to develop a patient-specific treatment, though this would be much more expensive than choosing from a library.
Imagine. Alleviating the pain, disability, disfigurement and suffering of diabetes. And arthritis.
For anyone facing the prospect of undergoing the current brutal approaches to joint replacement, according to research at Johns Hopkins, the idea of using stem cells to grow new cartilage, which sounds like the proverbial miracle, may not be that far away.
English: Diagram to show how embryonic stem cells are differentiated (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
A researcher spent ten years and finally succeeded in getting human stem cells to grow into two distinct types of cells—auditory neurons and inner-ear hair cells. And now he’s used the appropriate neuron-type cells to re-connect the inner ear to the brain. In other words, to restore nearly 50% of hearing in gerbils (whose inner-ear hairs had remained undamaged).
It’s very niche research, but it demonstrates that restoring hearing is definitely possible to some degree. Plus other research shows it’s possible to restore hearing to mice born deaf and yet other gene therapy research showing you can restore function to hair, eye and heart cells and smell in mice.
So much of historical medical research has focused on devising invasive, even barbaric methods of arresting sickness. We refer to it always as “fighting” disease, killing cells, conjuring up images of swords, bullets and bombs. As we continue to plumb the magical powers of stem cell and gene therapies, it’s encouraging to think of the balance now slowly tipping more and more toward non-invasive ways of restoring, gently giving back, quality of life to those who suffer.
Embryonic Stem Cells. (A) shows hESCs. (B) shows neurons derived from hESCs. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Those on both sides of the fence hotly debate the advisability of legalizing the sale of donor organs. Meanwhile, a couple of exciting new developments in using stem cells in transplantation caught my eye recently—using stem cells to protect against organ rejection and a new way to study how they work once they’re put into the organ recipient’s body.
Cut down on immunosuppressants
A small new study suggests that some kidney transplant patients who receive bioengineered stem cells from their donors may not need anti-rejection drugs long term. Five of eight patients who received the stem cells in addition to the organ were able to stop taking immunosuppressants after one year, according to Science Translational Medicine. If they can replicate this in a bigger study, it could mean reducing fewer drugs for transplant patients and being able to use more donor organs for transplants. There are typically around 47,000 people a year waiting for a kidney and that wait can currently take years.
Learn how stem cells work for transplants
Looking into the process of using them, NIH researchers have developed a way to monitor how stem cells function once transplanted. The method uses magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and consists of two FDA-approved drugs that can attach to cells and a third that is detectable by MRI. The technique is being tested in brain tumor patients who receive transplants of engineered neural stem cells, according to Molecular Imaging. The technique will help doctors understand how many of the cells they transplant actually reach the target organ, and so help them regulate how they administer the cells, plus how to adjust doses and timing.
Wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t have to resort to selling organs—which would likely turn out to produce another crop of heart-wrenching episodes of Law & Order (the original)?
Image via Wikipedia
Didn’t it have to be only a matter of time? I’m happy but not surprised to find that heart patients are beginning to benefit from having stem cells injected into their body’s operating plant. So far studies are limited, but they involve human hearts, not mice or pigs, and are yielding some very promising results.
In one case patients who’d had a heart attack had their hearts injected with bone marrow stem cells and experienced stronger healing. Even some scars in heart tissue began to fade. In another study patients battling heart failure after a heart attack benefited from injections of their own cardiac stem cells.
Research indicates that timing and sourcing are important. Using cardiac stem cells seems more effective than those from bone marrow. Injecting stem cells too soon or too late can cut short or even nullify benefits.
All the heart patients today have got to be on pins and needles hoping this research will progress rapidly enough to make a difference for them and those who love them.
Image via Wikipedia
Researchers have been able to create stem cells by introducing genes into cells by using viruses. The cells then became stem cells. Unfortunately, viruses are known to mutate genes and that can easily trigger cancer in new cells.
Now a new technique uses plasmids to create stem cells—beating heart cells. Plasmids are elements of DNA that reproduce themselves inside cells and then gradually decay. Experimenters say the new technique is is affordable and efficient. They reported it “worked consistently for 11 different stem cell lines. In each of the 11 cell lines, each plate of cells had around 94.5 percent beating heart cells. It also worked for embryonic stem cells and adult blood stem cells.”
One day soon we’ll be beyond the arguments about where stem cells come from and can move on to discovering more of the healing secrets nature seems eager to unfold.
As the fate of a decision about funding sources for it hangs in the balance, US News & World Report notes that Harris just conducted a poll about embryonic stem cell research. Results show that a clear majority of Americans across many faiths and credos believe it is neither immoral nor unethical.
In August the federal government appealed U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth’s decision about stopping federal funding for this wildly promising field of research. An appeals court put the ban into suspension so that funding for research could continue.
I just realized that 3 of my last 5 posts on this blog have been about the heartening promises of stem cell research, so you don’t have to guess my opinion about it. And I pray the judges are all listening carefully to the fact that citizens of faiths as diverse as Catholics to born-again Christians are in favor of moving ahead. Many even realize that the United States—in addition to already being embarrassingly low on the infant mortality scale among global nations—will fall light years further behind other countries who develop healing technologies with stem cells.
I haven’t been able to determine yet if US District Court judges are appointed or elected, but we can only hope that such an unenlightened ruling is not motivated by a short-sighted desire to hold onto a judgeship.
There are too many lives to be saved and too much suffering to be prevented for us to refuse the gift that God has given us with the miracle of learning how to use stem cells for healing and regrowth.
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 .