October 15, 2016 | David F. Coppedge

Adult Stem Cells Continue to Promote Healing

Here’s the latest on adult stem cells and how they are transforming regenerative medicine without harming embryos.

In a Perspective piece in Science Magazine, “Induced pluripotent stem cells: Past and future,” Eirini P. Papapetrou looks back over the decade since the discovery that adult and induced stem cells can work as alternatives to the ethically-controversial embryonic stem cells:

Ten years ago, Shinya Yamanaka and his student Kazutoshi Takahashi did an experiment of exquisite simplicity and elegance that changed biomedical research forever. By showing that a set of transcription factors could reprogram somatic cells to acquire a pluripotent stem cell state, they ushered in the era of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). The discovery made it crystal clear that cell identity is much more malleable than previously thought, and provided an invaluable tool for disease-oriented and translational researchers, bridging reductionism with patient-derived relevance. Combined with other maturing technologies, most notably genome editing and three-dimensional (3D) cell culture systems, iPSC technology has enabled investigation that was hitherto only possible in model organisms.

Stem cells from jaw bone help repair damaged cartilage (Medical Xpress): Stem cells that can repair joints are right there at the joints. They just need to be manipulated, say scientists at the Columbia College of Dental Medicine. “This is very exciting for the field because patients who have problems with their jaws and TMJs are very limited in terms of clinical treatments available,” a doctor says. Another remarks, “The implications of these findings are broad,” because joints and cartilage have been very difficult to treat.

Episomal Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells Promote Functional Recovery of Transected Murine Peripheral Nerve (PLoS One): This paper builds on work with induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) to advance them into a new potential therapy: a transected peripheral nerve. They also found a safer way to inject them via plasmids instead of the riskier viral vector method. A year after injection in patient ankles, the iPSCs showed no bad side effects. “We have hence shown that functional recovery of the transected peripheral nerve can be improved with the use of EiPSC therapy, which holds promise for the future of nerve regeneration.”

Stem cell gene found to command skeletal muscle regeneration (Science Daily): Finnish researchers have shown that skeletal muscle stem cells express a gene named Prox1 that is involved in fetal development of such diverse things as the liver, lymphatic vessels and the lens of the eye. Their findings about these stem cells could have applications from muscle recovery to diabetes treatment.

Stem cells grown into 3-D lung-in-a-dish (Science Daily): Researchers at UCLA took stem cells from a lung and got them to grow into “organoids” in a dish, using a scaffold to help them organize into lung tissue. They didn’t grow a whole lung, but learned about the way the stem cells proliferate. “The laboratory-grown lung-like tissue can be used to study diseases including idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, which has traditionally been difficult to study using conventional methods.”

Research points to ways to improve the therapeutic potential of stem cells (Science Daily): Scientists found a way to make human mesenchymal stem cells last longer, increasing their usefulness for regenerative medicine. “Stem cells hold great promise for transforming medical care related to a diverse range of conditions,” as long as they maintain their therapeutic potential. Now, that is becoming a better possibility.

MRI guidance shows promise in delivering stem cell therapies (Science Daily): Researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine are finding better ways to deliver stem cells where they are needed. “Working with animals, a team of scientists reports it has delivered stem cells to the brain with unprecedented precision by threading a catheter through an artery and infusing the cells under real-time MRI guidance.”

Tissue-specific mutation accumulation in human adult stem cells during life (Nature): A key concern for adult stem cells is keeping them safe from mutations throughout life. Unfortunately, mutations cannot be stopped. “Our results show that mutations accumulate steadily over time in all of the assessed tissue types, at a rate of approximately 40 novel mutations per year, despite the large variation in cancer incidence among these tissues,” they say. Some tissues, like the liver, mutate more slowly than colon tissues, probably due to the higher turnover rate in the intestine. “Notably, the inter-individual variation in mutation rate and spectra are low, suggesting tissue-specific activity of common mutational processes throughout life.” Experiments have shown, however, that adult stem cells from elderly people still can work for regenerative medicine.

The NIH and the FDA need to hurry up and translate more of these therapies to the patients who need them. Some people are falling for false promises of fake stem cell therapies outside the country. True iPSCs and adult stem cells have been showing their worth for a decade; what is taking so long? The NIH gets the lion’s share of federal science funding. Let’s use that money to help people.


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