April 7, 2011 | David F. Coppedge

Adult Stem Cell Advances Continue

The momentum for stem cell therapy is still on the side of adult stem cells (ASC), not embryonic stem cell (ESC) research.  Here are some recent findings:

  1. Blood vessel repair:  A press release from King’s College London says, “Scientists from King’s College London have uncovered the first genetic evidence that shows cells found on the surface of blood vessels can act as stem cells to assist in both organ growth and tissue repair.”  Leader of the study Paul Sharpe said, “This is the first time perivascular cells have been shown to differentiate into specialised cells during a natural tissue repair process.  In addition to the obvious significance for understanding the cellular mechanisms of tissue repair, it also has wider implications for areas of regenerative medicine/dentistry directed towards stimulating natural repair following tissue damage or disease.”
  2. Heart bypass aid:  Your own stem cells may stop heart damage.  “In a new research study under way at the Methodist DeBakey Heart & Vascular Center, surgeons are adding a patient’s own stem cells to the heart during cardiac bypass surgery,” a press release from The Methodist Hospital System said.  “The goal of this research study is to determine whether the stem cell infusion will generate new blood vessels and improve heart function more than what is seen through bypass surgery alone.”
  3. Genetic defect correction:  At University of Wisconsin, scientists are learning that genes from a patient with genetic defects can be cultured, repaired, and induced into pluripotent stem cells that can be re-injected for tissue repair without risk of causing cancer.  The press release from Morgridge Institute for Research at the university said that the research “moved gene therapy one step closer to clinical reality by determining that the process of correcting a genetic defect does not substantially increase the number of potentially cancer-causing mutations in induced pluripotent stem cells.”
  4. Skin repair:  Another press release from King’s College London gives hope for burn victims.  Researchers have found that bone marrow stem cells “that can transform into skin cells to repair damaged skin tissue” during skin grafts.  “It was already known that bone marrow may play a role in skin wound healing, but until now it was not known which specific bone marrow cells this involves, how the process is triggered, and how the key cells are recruited to the affected skin area.”  They identified a marrow protein named HMGB1 “that can mobilise the cells from bone marrow and direct them to where they are needed.”  This story was featured in “News in a nutshell” on The Scientist.
  5. Plentiful supply:  The efficiency of reprogramming cells into stem cells just got better.  University of Pennsylvania posted a news report that describes how micro-RNAs (miRNA) can do the job without the usual reprogramming factors.  A team headed found that “a specific group of miRNAs can indeed reprogram mouse and human adult cells into an iPSC state by themselves, and can do so very rapidly and efficiently.”  A video clip showing by Dr. Edward E. Morrissey explaining how the new process is more efficient by two orders of magnitude.

Stories about embryonic stem cells generating eyeballs are circulating on the net (see PhysOrg, Science Daily and New Scientist).  Actually, just a rudimentary eye cup has been observed to form from ES cells in mice.  These eye cups show differentiation in to several times of retinal tissues.  The work was published in Nature.1
    Either way, the work at RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology in Kobe, Japan is not necessarily concerned with farming human ESCs for regenerative repair, but only learning how stem cells in an embryo form the body’s tissues in three dimensions.  Commenting on this research in the same issue,1 Ali and Sowden said in “Regenerative medicine: DIY eye” that this research “could offer the prospect of disease modelling and drug testing using induced pluripotent stem cells generated from patients’ tissues.”

1.  Eiraku, Takata et al, “Self-organizing optic-cup morphogenesis in three-dimensional culture,” Nature 472, (07 April 2011), pp. 51�56, doi:10.1038/nature09941.
2.  Robin R. Ali and Jane C. Sowden, “Regenerative medicine: DIY eye,” Nature 472 (07 April 2011), pp. 42�43, doi:10.1038/472042a.

Does anyone see any need to tamper with human embryos?  The tangible results are coming from work with adult stem cells.  If scientists want to play with mouse embryos, fine; but where is the gold rush that was promised with ESCs?  What happened after all those tear-jerking commercials that disabled people were all going to die without embryonic stem cells, and warnings from scientific institutions that other countries would leave American science in the dust if we didn’t relax restrictions on ESC research?
    Meanwhile, work with adult stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells, without the ethical issues, has been leaping forward with actual results.  The only applications for embryonic stem cell research so far have been fraud, greed, hype and quackery (QuackResearch.org).  Even leading scientific journals have been guilty (01/09/2006).  Let this be a lesson in political science.

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