Stem Cells: They Keys To Human Health
Stem cells are, in may ways, our lifeblood, and understanding them could utterly transform human biology. While stem cells have already worked wonders in medicinal research, showing signs of curing everything from spinal cord injuries to blindness, they've always had their shortcomings—mostly tied to our own lacking understanding.
However, each year brings us closer to truly understanding these cells, how they function, and how they can be manipulated for a variety of health purposes. For example, we know that stem cells are tied to aging, and we know that understanding exactly how they are tied to aging is critical to combating age-associated degeneration. As work published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information outlines:
"Aging tissues experience a progressive decline in homeostatic and regenerative capacities, which has been attributed to degenerative changes in tissue-specific stem cells, stem cell niches and systemic cues that regulate stem cell activity."
And one study is promising a "game-changing" technique for stem cells.
Taking their cue from salamander regeneration, research led by the University of New South Wales says that a stem cell therapy capable of regenerating any human tissue damaged by injury, disease, or aging could be available within a few years, thanks to an innovative technique.
But first, a breakdown of what stem cells are and why they are so terribly important:
The technique pioneered by the researchers at University of New South Wales involves reprogramming bone and fat cells into "induced multipotent stem cells" (iMS). These cells are special in that they can regenerate multiple tissue types.
The team notes the significance of these cells, stating that, "unlike primary mesenchymal stem cells, which are used with little objective evidence in clinical practice to promote tissue repair, iMS cells contribute directly to in vivo tissue regeneration in a context-dependent manner without forming tumors."
There are two kinds of stem cells: embryonic stem cells that during embryonic development generate every type of cell in the human body, and adult stem cells that are tissue-specific, and unable to regenerate multiple tissue types.
This method has the potential to transform current approaches in regenerative medicine.
Embryonic stem cells would be preferable, save that they are prone to form teratomas (tumors composed of different tissue types), and their use is highly controversial.
In any case, the scientists are quick to note the utterly transformative nature of this technique, and it's great potential in relation to the future of medicine: "This method can be applied to both mouse and human somatic cells to generate multipotent stem cells and has the potential to transform current approaches in regenerative medicine."
How It Works
The method used by the researchers is, quite frankly, amazing. They took bone and fat cells in mice, switched off their memory, and transformed them into stem cells.
To be specific, the technique involves extracting adult human fat cells and treating them with the compound 5-Azacytidine (AZA), along with platelet-derived growth factor-AB (PDGF-AB) for approximately two days. The cells are then treated with the growth factor alone for a further two to three weeks.
The AZA relaxes the hard-wiring of the cells by inducing cell plasticity, and this is expanded by the growth factor. Release the iMS into damaged tissue, and they will multiply, healing the tissue. The technique is a huge step up from other stem-cell therapies, since embryonic stem cell therapies may form tumors, and others use viruses to transform cells into stem cells.
The technique is a huge step up from other stem-cell therapies, since embryonic stem cell therapies may form tumors, and others use viruses to transform cells into stem cells. The current trials use iMS from adult human fat cells inserted into mice. Human trials for this technique are expected by late 2017.