October 8, 2015 | David F. Coppedge

Adult Stem Cells Outpace Embryonics

Some still play with embryos, but there seems little reason for it when adult stem cells perform so well.

Researchers learn how to grow old brain cells (Science Daily): Good news from the Salk Institute. “For the first time, scientists can use skin samples from older patients to create brain cells without rolling back the youthfulness clock in the cells first. The new technique, which yields cells resembling those found in older people’s brains, will be a boon to scientists studying age-related diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.”

Mesenchymal stem cells use extracellular vesicles to outsource mitophagy and shuttle microRNAs (Nature Communications): Basic research at Scripps is helping understand why mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) show promise in animal studies and human clinical trials. “Collectively, these studies mechanistically link mitophagy and MSC survival with macrophage function, thereby providing a physiologically relevant context for the innate immunomodulatory activity of MSCs.”

Transplantation of unique, newly discovered stems cells may lead to promising stroke therapy (Science Daily): Preventing viral invasions is essential to keeping one’s adult stem cells healthy and ready for their functions. This article pits adult stem cells against embryonic stem cells by discussing “Muse cells” found in a variety of tissues, including bone marrow, fat tissues and skin. “Muse cells are unique stem cells that are able to self-renew and also display high efficiency for differentiating into neuron-like cells,” a researcher from U of South Florida says.  But can they beat embryos?

According to the researchers, fetal stem cells may appear to be better candidates for replacing lost neural circuitry, considering that they preferentially differentiate toward being neuronal cells. However, fetal stem cell accessibility is limited and, like embryonic stem cells, their immaturity may present safety issues, such as tumor development. Also, the use of fetal and Amazing Factsembryonic stem cells has been the topic of many ethical debates. Since Muse cells can be derived from adult tissue rather than fetal or embryonic tissue, the ethical quandaries associated with stem cell therapy may be considerably allayed with their use.

Not only do Muse cells also have the practical advantage of being non-tumorigenic, they are readily accessed commercially and can also be easily collected from patient skin biopsies. Once more, Muse cells do not have to be “induced,” or genetically manipulated, to be pluripotent as required with some other cell varieties — they already display inherent stem cell properties after isolation and, with their acquired neuronal properties, Muse cells spontaneously home toward the stroke-damaged sites.

Adult stem cells vs embryos in treatment of macular degeneration: Medical Xpress reports optimistically on Canadians using embryonic stem cells (ESCs) to treat age-related macular degeneration, a common cause of blindness in the elderly. Researchers in Montreal got most of the ESCs to differentiate into pure cones, at least in a dish. But David Levin in another article on Medical Xpress points out that stem cells from adult dental pulp can also be used to treat macular degeneration. Researchers from Tufts University are finding that these cells from a patient’s own teeth can be reprogrammed into the same retinal tissue the Canadians are making from ESCs. In fact, traits of dental pulp stem cells avoid some of the complications and safety concerns of other induced pluripotent stem cells. Both techniques are in the early stages, but why not focus on the adult stem cells and avoid the ethical quandaries of using embryonic stem cells?

Scientists reveal how stem cells defend against viruses (PhysOrg): The only article in recent news describing scientific progress in the use of human embryos for stem cells is this study from Singapore. It’s about basic research into how stem cells protect themselves from viruses.  No treatments are described for any health conditions, and nothing about the research suggests that similar processes protect adult stem cells.  Is there any reason, then, to use embryos for this research instead of adult stem cells or induced pluripotent stem cells?

Many researchers were delighted to find that induced pluripotent stem cells from adult tissues work just as well as embryonic stem cells. Most of them saw the new gold rush in adult cells, and were relieved to avoid the ethical quandaries. But there are still holdouts who want to tinker with the unborn. Pressure needs to be kept on them about the evil of using embryos and fetal tissues.  Those unethical practices feed the market for abortions (9/20/15, 8/02/15, 7/18/15). These news items undercut the claim that scientists “need” embryos to “help” people.  A multi-pronged attack might dry up that market: (1) embryos are not needed, (2) the smart money is on adult stem cells, and (3) cutting up human embryos at any stage is unethical and immoral.  Secular materialists who won’t be impressed by #3 may listen to #1 and #2.

 

 

 

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