A City of Hope researchers are utilizing stem cells to understand the genetic mutations that occur in astrocytes, a type of neuron, as well as damage to the myelin sheath, which is integral to the development of ALS and Alzheimer’s. Stem cells were used to create a model of Alexander disease, which is a neurological disorder similar to ALS and Alzheimer’s in its pathology, part of which involves a genetic mutation that hinders the production of an adequate myelin sheath, a fatty membrane that covers neurons and expedites signal transduction. Using this technique, the researchers homed in on the CHI3L protein, which seems to be primarily responsible for neuroinflammation and stunted neuronal development, including an inadequate myelin sheath.
Bone grafts help millions of people suffering from bone loss due to trauma or disease. Typically, traumatic bone injuries and bone loss due to disease have been mended with synthetic grafts or segments of bone taken from another area in the patient’s body. However, these treatments do not last long-term in growing bodies, and lack vasculature required for mature bone growth. In vitro tests at the New York Stem Cell Foundation Research Institute of a new technology called Segmental Additive Tissue Engineering (SATE) have demonstrated stem cell grown segments of bone creating large scale, personalized grafts. The SATE protocol seeds the patient’s own stem cells into a scaffold and directs the cells to develop into customized and vascularized bone segments, which pose virtually no risk of rejection, and are able to grow with the patient.
Researchers at Newcastle University are 3D printing corneas utilizing stem cells. The process involves mixing stem cells in a bio-gel which is derived from seaweed and collagen that allows these stem cells to be cultured and printed easily and efficiently into fully functioning corneas. The cornea plays an important role in focusing light that enters the eye. Technically, blindness caused by corneal damage is easily reversible with a corneal transplant. However, there is a vast shortage of donor corneas due to general organ and tissue donation shortages. In addition, there is also a significant risk of rejection - as is the case with any donated tissue.
A Phase I clinical trial to test the efficacy of genetically modified autologous (the patient’s own) stem cells to treat beta-thalassemia has been initiated. This condition is an inherited disease that affects the production of hemoglobin, which is responsible for carrying oxygen in the body and delivering it to tissues and vital organs. With thousands of new cases every year, this condition often results in fatigue, bone fragility and extreme anemia (a deficiency of iron in the blood). This trial aims to create a groundbreaking protocol that would obtain autologous stem cells from the patients, genetically alter them to produce the missing protein responsible for the condition and, reintroduce the stem cells back into the body through a transfusion.
In a clinical trial conducted at Augusta University Medical College of Georgia, doctors have found that autologous [the patients’ own] stem cell injections can restore estrogen levels in the ovaries, the lack of which contributes to Premature Ovarian Failure (POF). Patients who received the injections saw an increase in estrogen levels in 3 months following the injections and, in 6 months, resumed regular menstruation cycles, which had ceased due to premature menopause. POF primarily affects women under 40 and causes the ovaries to cease their normal functions, leading to premature menopause, and rendering the women incapable of conceiving a child. The procedure involves the collection of the patients’ own stem cells, which are then isolated and re-introduced into the body to rejuvenate the prematurely aged ovaries. The study uses a minimally invasive treatment to inject the stem cells into one ovary, leaving the other untreated as a control. Through ultrasound imaging, the treated ovary has increased in size compared to the control, signifying a restoration in normal ovarian function.
Families choosing to bank their stem cells – usually in the form of cord blood and/or dental pulp stem cells, typically view their decision as “biological insurance.” A Phase II clinical trial is investigating the safety and efficacy of autologous [the patient’s own] cord blood stem cells to treat children with behavioral and social difficulties associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). In a clear demonstration of the value of banking your own stem cells, only families that chose to bank their children’s cord blood were qualified to participate in the study.
A clinical trial has shown that autologous [the patient’s own] stem cell infusions can accelerate improvements in motor function of children with cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy occurs when the brain is damaged either before or during birth and has varying levels of severity, but in all cases, affects movement and speech. CP children typically receive physical and occupational therapy and will make subtle improvements with age, as their bodies develop. In the double blind clinical trial in which some children were given a placebo and others were given varying amounts of stem cells, those who received approximately 25 million cells per kilogram of body weight showed substantial improvement in motor skills when tested a year following the treatment. The improvement was significant when compared to the expected normal yearly improvement CP children typically make, and was also greater than that of the children who received the smaller dosage. In the next phase of the clinical trial, researchers seek to determine whether continuous stem cell infusions could improve motor function even more significantly.
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.
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.
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.