Researchers at the University of Chicago have developed a skin graft utilizing engineered stem cells that can trigger the release of insulin and successfully regulate blood sugar levels, as well as prevent weight gain when consuming a high-fat diet. This revolutionary treatment could eliminate the pain and discomfort from current methods of monitoring and regulating blood sugar through injections. The stem cells in the graft were engineered, with the use of CRISPR, to release a hormone that mimics glucagon (called GLP-1) and trigger the pancreas to release insulin. GLP-1 is also shown to combat obesity due to its appetite suppressing properties. The engineered stem cells formed into a layer of skin tissue and were applied to the subjects. In animal models, 80% of the diabetic mice receiving the engineered skin graft exhibited the release of insulin following food consumption resulting in lower blood glucose levels and reduced body weight.
Researchers at the UNC School of Medicine and North Carolina State University have created a method of obtaining and culturing stem cells to treat chronic and potentially fatal lung inflammation. Chronic inflammation in the lungs causes the formation of scar tissue that inhibits proper oxygenation of vital organs, like the heart and brain. Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are some of the most common results of chronic inflammation. With many IPF patients not surviving past 5 years following diagnosis, this treatment could significantly prolong their lives. The treatment is done by isolating a patient’s own lung stem cells through biopsy, then culturing and expanding them to clinically relevant numbers. In an animal model, the subjects were induced to have scarring and inflammation in the lungs to mimic IPF in humans. Those that were injected with their own stem cells showed significant improvement in lung function compared to those that received a placebo.
A fourteen-year-old cancer patient has gone into full remission after partaking in the clinical trial of a stem cell therapy conducted at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. The recently approved FDA treatment, also known as chimeric antigen receptor T-cell [CAR T cell] therapy, works by obtaining autologous (the patient’s own) immune stem cells, genetically altering and expanding them to recognize a specific molecule on the surface of cancer cells and become targeted cancer killers. In this case, it was used to treat acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) originating in the B cells.
Researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine believe that a decline in the number of neural stem cells in the hypothalamus is one of the major causes for aging. The hypothalamus is involved in regulation of hormone-secreting glands, metabolism, growth and plays an important role in maintaining the general health and stability of the body (homeostasis). In an animal model, by replenishing the supply of stem cells in the hypothalamus, researchers delayed the noticeable and deteriorating effects of aging. The study involved two phases to test the researcher’s hypothesis. The first phase involved taking one group of “middle-aged” mice and decreasing the supply of stem cells in the hypothalamus and comparing them to a control group where no manipulation took place. The manipulated group exhibited quicker deterioration and displayed palpable signs of aging compared to the control group, suggesting that the number of stem cells present in the hypothalamus is linked to the aging process. In the second phase of the study, a manipulated group received additional stem cells. In comparing this manipulated group to the control group, the manipulated group exhibited a slowing of the aging process as a result of the addition of stem cells. Therefore, when the number of stem cells was increased rather than decreased, the mice showed a slower progression of age related deterioration over their lifespan.
Researchers at the University of California Irvine have created a method of engineering mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) to specifically target and help destroy cancer metastasis, which is an indicator of cancer spreading and the cause of approximately 90% of cancer deaths. The researchers are utilizing MSCs that have been engineered to detect stiffened tissues, a typical indicator of breast cancer metastases. These stem cells then release an enzyme upon detection of the cancer cells that triggers the activation of a localized chemotherapy. This is a revolutionary method of treating cancer given that one of the biggest concerns with chemotherapy is its ability to not only harm cancer cells, but also harm healthy cells as well.
A phase III clinical trial utilizing autologous [the patient’s own] mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) has begun, and could offer relief to the millions suffering from ALS. The study is being conducted by Brainstorm Cell Therapeutics with a grant of $16 million from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine [CIRM].Brainstorm has developed a proprietary method [called NurOwn] for inducing MSCs to secrete neurological growth factors, which exhibits the ability to perpetuate the life of neurons experiencing rapid degradation in ALS patients. In previous clinical trials the treatment demonstrated the ability to slow the progression of ALS immediately following the treatment. The new trial seeks to prolong these beneficial effects.
Researchers at the Andrews Institute for Orthopedics and Sports Medicine are working on a breakthrough clinical trial that could soon bring FDA approval for stem cell knee cartilage repair that’s already available in other countries. Dr. Khay Yong Saw, from Kuala Lumpur, has developed this effective treatment to inject autologous (the patient’s own) stem cells into the deteriorated cartilage to restore its previous durability and function. He is now supervising the process in hopes that his methods can be adapted in an FDA approved treatment. The treatment has the potential to replace invasive surgical procedures that require months in postoperative recovery, and could even utilize mesenchymal stem cells (the same ones found in teeth) given their known properties of differentiating into cartilage tissue. This treatment has already shown promise with over 700 patients in Malaysia in the last 5 years.
Once considered a liability, Red Sox player Drew Pomeranz is now one of the Red Sox’s most consistent players, following a stem cell injection. After erratic starts and being left on the disabled list at the start of the season, Pomeranz underwent an injection of his own stem cells to accelerate the recovery of his elbow injury, opting against surgery and platelet rich plasma injections. Now he’s helping his team retain a top spot in the league with his newly healed arm.
Dr. Nadia Zakaria at the University of Antwerp’s Center for Cell Therapy and Regenerative Medicine has been working on a 3D printing method to create fully functioning human corneas using autologous mesenchymal stem cells [MSCs]. Patients require corneal transplants if the cornea is damaged due to severe infection, injury, or clouding due to genetic disorders such as Fuchs Dystrophy. Current corneal transplants come from donors, but the number of available transplants is scarce. Therefore, patients receiving the transplant likely do not receive one that matches their exact eye shape and curvature, further exacerbating the risk of rejection of transplanted tissue. Dr. Zakaria is utilizing a collagen scaffold to grow layers of the cornea using mesenchymal stem cells [the same type of stem cells found in teeth], and the main goal is to achieve the exact clarity and thickness of a fully-fledged human cornea.
The FDA panel’s unanimous recommendation to approve an autologous leukemia treatment represents a paradigm shift in medicine in which gene therapies and stem cells will play leading roles.
The treatment involves altering the genes of T cells, which are highly specialized stem cells obtained from bone marrow, to target a specific protein on the surface of defective immune cells that cause leukemia. It works by harvesting the cells from the patient, engineering them to target the protein CD-19 on the surface of B Cells, and intravenously administering the cells back into the patient, where they multiply and essentially eradicate the B Cells. Showing promise, over 80% of the patients in the trial have gone into remission.