November 28, 2012 | David F. Coppedge

Adult Stem Cell Breakthroughs Continue

Adult stem cells continue to show promise as more about these pluripotent cells comes to light.

Heart repairMedical Xpress reported that organ-derived stem cell injections appear to have promise for tissue repair from myocardial infarction.  The cells come from skeletal muscle or adipose tissue.  A week after injection in subjects, “led to a substantial decrease in infarct size and a significant improvement in left ventricle function when compared with injections of cell culture medium alone.”

Automatic wound repairNew Scientist reported that human skin appears to maintain a pool of adult stem cells used in repairing wounds.  The cells exist in eccrine glands, “a type of sweat gland not found in animals,” the article said, adding, “Humans have three times more eccrine glands than hair follicles, making them the major contributor to new skin cells.”  A researcher from Howard Hughes Medical Institute remarked that the finding was “unexpected and against current dogma.

Personalized medicine:  According to Medical Xpress, researchers at Johns Hopkins and Memorial Sloan-Kettering are investigating the use of induced pluripotent stem cells for personalized medicine for those with genetic diseases.  “This approach could move much of the trial-and-error process of beginning a new treatment from the patient to the petri dish, and help people to get better faster.”

Rebuilding skeletal muscle:  Another article on Medical Xpress discussed the potential for rebuilding muscle for those with degenerative diseases: “The therapy brings together two existing techniques for muscle repair – cell transplantation and tissue engineering – specifically, mesoangioblast stem cells delivered via a hydrogel cell-carrier matrix.”

Stem cell transposable elements as un-junkPhysOrg reported that linc-RNAs, a type of non-coding RNA thought to be genetic junk from viral invasions, appear to be landing spots for endogenous retroviruses (ERVs).  David Kelley said that during his PhD work, “these repetitive hopping genes were a major nuisance, which got me thinking about what they were doing in the genome.”  He and John Rinn found that they appear to promote gene transcription.  “Perhaps more intriguingly, lincRNAs containing an ERV family known as HERVH correlated with expression in stem cells relative to dozens of other tested tissues and cells.” Rinn got emotional about this: “This strongly suggests that ERV transposition in the genome may have given rise to stem cell-specific lincRNAs. The observation that HERVHs landed at the start of dozens of lincRNAs was almost chilling; that this appears to impart a stem cell-specific expression pattern was simply stunning!”  From there the article went on to speculate about how this evolved.

New kind of stem cell that may make regenerative medicine possible was reported by Medical Xpress.   Adult epithelial cells can be coaxed into induced pluripotent stem cells with desirable attributes; “These seem to be exactly the kind of cells that we need to make regenerative medicine a reality.”  For example, these cells could be used to create personalized medicine for cancer patients.  The cells appear to take on the characteristics of the organ they are transplanted into.

Fountain of youth:  A way to refresh aging stem cells to look young again was found by researchers at the University of Toronto, Science Daily said.  It involves inserting growth factors into the stem cells that turn aging factors off.  “The discovery, which transforms aged stem cells into cells that function like much younger ones, may one day enable scientists to grow cardiac patches for damaged or diseased hearts from a patient’s own stem cells — no matter what age the patient — while avoiding the threat of rejection.

With so much success continuing for adult stem cells, it seems superfluous to work with ethically-charged embryonic stem cells.  Work continues on them as well, though – some of it raising fears of abuse.  Nature News, for instance, reported that “Researchers have coaxed cultured embryonic stem cells to develop into eggs that then give rise to normal offspring” in mice.  The article admitted ethical concerns.  The experiments might lead to treatments for infertility; “However, the prospect of transplanting such oocytes into women raises major safety and ethical concerns that will need to be discussed carefully if the findings are repeated in humans.”  But who will discuss the concerns?  Who will decide what “carefully” enough means?  And will it stop mad scientists more concerned about money than ethics?

The Family Research Council, which maintains StemCellResearchFacts.org website, recently congratulated Dr. David Prentice, “one of the world’s leading experts on adult stem cells,” for getting a scholarly article published in Tissue and Cell Engineering, titled, Remembering Pioneers in Patient Treatments.  The article “talks about the groundbreaking new science that won Dr. Shinya Yamanaka this year’s Nobel Prize,” according to the FRC newsletter.

Adult stem cells: proven track record, no ethical qualms.  Embryonic stem cells: no track record, large ethical qualms.  Enough said?  We cannot trust the scientists themselves to regulate safety and ethics.  These are issues for the public to insist on.  Beware when scientists perform “public engagement” to determine what people approve; read this case of rigged public engagement on Evolution News & Views.

 

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