Researchers at Adelaide University in Australia are conducting research into the application of dental pulp stem cells to treat neurological damage due to stroke. Cell based treatments for the detrimental effects of stroke could improve quality of life by promoting neural regeneration, neuroplasticity, vascularization and immuno-modulation. When an ischemic stroke occurs, a major artery in the brain becomes blocked due to a blood clot, and this deprives part of the brain of nutrients and oxygen. Depending on the length of the block, major parts of the brain can suffer neuronal death causing severe and permanent damage. This damage includes paralysis, vision problems, memory loss and language difficulties. Currently, there are no effective treatments for the effects of stroke, and because dental stem cells are derived from the neural crest during embryonic development, a dental stem cell based treatment shows promise in significantly improving the quality of life for stroke victims.
The team at Central Hospital in Nancy, France is conducting research utilizing dental stem cells to regrow and restore bone density. The trial aims to direct dental mesenchymal stem cells to differentiate into engineered osteoblasts, as well as promoting angiogenesis, which is necessary given that bones typically lack sufficient vascularization to make efficient repairs. The benefit of using autologous [the patient’s own] stem cells makes this an effective treatment option that does not pose a risk of rejection. By directing stem cells to promote bone mineralization and endothelial growth, as well as creating vascularization to promote healing, stem cells can be applied to a variety of bone trauma and deficiencies.
Phase III clinical trials for a stem cell based ALS treatment has been initiated. ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is a disorder in which motor neurons in the body rapidly degenerate, and the treatment aims to prolong the survival rate of afflicted individuals by using autologous [the patient’s own] mesenchymal stem cells (the same stem cells found in teeth), which can be differentiated into fully-functioning neurons. The trials, to be conducted by BrainStorm Therapeutics, exploits the company’s proprietary technology [NurOwn], which utilizes mesenchymal stem cells. BrainStorm obtains these cells from the patient, expanding and differentiating the stem cells prior to application. The stem cells begin producing neurotrophic factors that facilitate neuronal growth and regeneration.
Researchers at University of Glasgow have developed a new “nanokicking” technology, which directs mesenchymal stem cells to precisely differentiate into a bone material for use in fracture repairs and bone grafting. By subjecting the stem cells to ‘nanokicking’ – precise, nanoscale vibrations, while the cells are in a collagen gel, these cells can more effectively transform into bone cells capable of replenishing damaged or depleted bone mass. Current bone grafts obtained from patients themselves nearly never yield enough bone material to be clinically relevant for severe injuries, and donor bone grafts have a high risk of rejection hence, autologous stem cell grafts represent an optimal treatment option for patients suffering from any type of bone trauma or deficiency. With bone being the second most grafted tissue [behind blood], ‘nanokicking’ the patient’s own stem cells would significantly impact patient outcomes following reconstructive, maxillofacial and orthopedic surgeries.
The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute has recently invested $11.6 million into stem cell based regenerative research being conducted at the Temple University School of Medicine. Given the increased incidence of heart disease in recent years, stem cell based treatments are emerging as an optimal method of treatment, though there are still a few hurdles these treatments must overcome in order to be at their optimal effectiveness. Many of the challenges with current stem cell treatments for heart disease are due to the age of the patients and their age-related ailments. Obtaining stem cells for treatment at an older age reduces the stem cells’ efficacy - compared to younger cells, and also impacts the yield; often resulting in an insufficient number of cells for treatment.
In a recently published study at Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute, stem cells obtained from younger subjects and injected into aging subjects resulted in improved heart function, and an overall increase in stamina and activity levels. As we age, our heart muscles begin to stiffen, causing fluid to build up in the heart and preventing the muscles from relaxing properly. This is similar to hearts of patients who have experienced heart failure with ejection fraction. Therefore, this research is pivotal in treating both heart failure and age-related deterioration. In an animal model, mice that received the progenitor cells (a more specified type of stem cell) obtained from younger mice showed multifaceted beneficial results. Not only did the older mice display improved heart function, but their activity levels increased, and their telomeres, which shorten as cells age, were regenerated. The implications of this research show that though the stem cells were injected into the heart, beneficial effects were seen all over the body, in addition to showing that younger stem cells are in fact far more proliferative than older cells.
Researchers at the University of California Irvine, in collaboration with the Barcelona Institute of Science and Technology, have found that consuming a low-calorie diet can prompt the body’s stem cells to remain active and repair age-related wear and tear more efficiently. A low-calorie intake has shown to maintain a youthful circadian rhythm, or biological clock, which is known to regulate and direct stem cell function toward either maintaining homeostasis (equilibrium in the body) or active repair. As we age, our bodies allocate stem cells for various purposes and these cells lose their potency from lack of action, but the reduction in caloric intake reinvigorates these stem cells. In an animal model, researchers found that older stem cells use energy less efficiently compared to younger cells. However, reducing the caloric intake allowed the older cells to reset their biological rhythm, which allowed them to process energy as efficiently as younger cells and regain their youthful potency to make repairs, rather than just maintain the body.
Researchers at the University of Southern California (USC) School of Medicine have pinpointed the biological processes that lead to the differentiation of skin stem cells into follicles that grow hair. As people age, the ability to regenerate skin cells declines and therefore, the follicles produce less and less hair. Utilizing a combination of bioinformatics and molecular screenings, the researchers studied the differentiation of stem cells into hair follicles of newborn mice, honing in on genetic factors and environmental cell signals this process entails. The process was then successfully implemented when applied to adult mice that lacked hair by introducing the necessary factors that signal stem cells to differentiate into organoids that will grow hair.
Billionaires Bill Gates and Steve Branson have joined Cargill [one of the largest agricultural companies in the world] in investing in Memphis Meats, which has been working to bring accessible, ethical and cruelty free meat to the market. Memphis Meats has successfully grown beef, chicken and duck meat from the animals’ stem cells, providing the same taste and nutrition without any harm to animals. By programming the cells to become muscle tissue, the company has been able to create lab-grown meat with all the biological components of real meat. The cultured meat is said to look and taste exactly like the real deal, but could be even more salubrious for consumption, given that it bypasses the hormones and the unhealthy diets that livestock is often fed.
Collaborating researchers from the University of California Davis Medical Center and the Second Xiangya Hospital of the Central-South University (Hunan, China) are developing an autologous [the patient’s own] stem cell protocol to aid the rehabilitation process following a hip fracture. With over 300,000 hip fractures in the US alone, and with many patients failing to return to an independent lifestyle following the fracture, the need for more effective rehabilitation methodologies is great; the mortality rate following a fracture is high as well. The team of researchers is focusing on the application of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) to facilitate the healing process and get patients back on their feet. When tested in an animal model, autologous MSCs were engineered to express a growth factor called bFGF, which directs the differentiation of these stem cells into osteoblasts that will later become bone. When injected back into the subject with a hip fracture, this growth factor also successfully promoted vascularization around the fracture site and the ossification of the bone.