July 26, 2016 | David F. Coppedge

Adult Stem Cells Continue to Show Promise

Ethical stem cells from adult tissues make more news than embryonic stem cells.

Last month, Science Magazine retold the story of “How iPS cells changed the world.”

The cells promised to be a boon for regenerative medicine: researchers might take a person’s skin, blood or other cells, reprogram them into iPS cells, and then use those to grow liver cells, neurons or whatever was needed to treat a disease. This personalized therapy would get around the risk of immune rejection, and sidestep the ethical concerns of using cells derived from embryos.

Even with growing pains and some setbacks, stem cell therapy using adult stem cells and iPS cells continues to show great promise for a variety of conditions.

Stem cell therapy as a potential treatment for severe burns patients (Medical Xpress): stem cells from skeletal muscle show promise for regenerating injuries of burn patients, researchers are finding at the University of Texas.

Stem Cells Could Replace Hip Replacements (Live Science): Wouldn’t it be great to avoid expensive hip replacements by applying stem cells from fat? “Scientists have coaxed stem cells to grow new cartilage on a scaffold shaped like the ball of a hip joint,” this article says. “This is a major step toward being able one day to use a patient’s own cells to repair a damaged joint, thus avoiding the need for extensive joint-replacement surgery.” The method could also avoid arthritis, and prove useful with other joint repairs. Human trials may begin in 3-5 years.

Hard-to-treat chest pain may be improved with a patient’s own stem cells (Medical Xpress): The American Heart Association is investigating a non-surgical technique for heart patients. They inject a catalyst that causes the patient’s own stem cells from bone marrow to enter the bloodstream, where they can be collected for re-injection.

Non-healing tissue from diabetic foot ulcers reprogrammed as pluripotent stem cells (Science Daily): Here’s a good way to bring life out of disease: take ulcerous cells and reprogram them into iPS cells that can treat chronic wounds.

New way out: Researchers show how stem cells exit bloodstream (PhysOrg): The body’s natural stem cells have their own way of squeezing out of blood vessels to get to injury sites where they’re needed, North Carolina State University researchers found. White blood cells of the immune system squeeze through actively in a well-known process called diapedesis, but stem cells get a shove: “the stem cells were passive, and the endothelial cells not only changed their shape in order to surround the stem cell, they actually pushed the stem cells out of the blood vessel,” they said, giving this process the name angiopellosis.

Clinical trial tests cord-blood cells to treat macular degeneration (Medical Xpress): Phase II clinical trials at UIC are showing promise for treating a leading cause of adult blindness with stem cells from cord blood. Doctors inject the stem cells behind the retina “in the hope that they will prevent further loss of rod and cone cells—and perhaps even restore vision.”

Gene controls regeneration of injured muscle by adult stem cells (Medical Xpress): NYU researchers have identified a “key gene enables the repair of injured muscle throughout life.” Understanding how it works may lead to treatments for sarcopenia, or age-related muscle loss.

Cerebrospinal fluid signals control the behavior of stem cells in the brain (Medical Xpress): A researcher at the University of Basel has found that “the choroid plexus, a largely ignored structure in the brain that produces the cerebrospinal fluid, is an important regulator of adult neural stem cells.” That structure shouldn’t be ignored any longer.


The Salk Institute is saying that no process for generating stem cells equals the potency of naive stem cells in the early stages of embryonic development. Science Daily says Salk has formulated criteria for evaluating how close they come. As we reported in June, however, Russian scientists determined that for all practical purposes, iPS cells are just as good (6/12/16). It seems that researchers are running out of excuses for tinkering with human embryos, which everyone in the field admits is ethically fraught. The proof of adult stem cells is in the pudding of actual treatments that help people.

When you have two ways of achieving the same goal, choose the ethical one. Killing one human being, even a potential one with all the genetic program to become an adult, is not right, even if the goals are honorable. You can harvest the organs of an accident victim after death; that’s OK (unless medical professionals cause the death, as in assisted suicide). An altruistic person might wish to donate a kidney so that two people can live. But taking away the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness of one individual for another is never moral. Find the ethical way to do it.


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