Researchers at UC Davis have created lab-grown brain organoids that are complex and vascularized, dramatically furthering research for brain disorders. Given that the human brain is one of the most complex anatomical structures and researchers are still discovering new functions and neuronal pathways, having brain organoids in vitro greatly expedites this research. When several small brain organoids joined together, researchers observed nerve impulses among the structures, signifying cellular communication that resembles that of fully-grown human brains. In a recent development, these organoids have vascularized and have brought researchers one step closer to both understanding neurological disorders, as well as helping patients replace damaged neurons from conditions like strokes, Alzheimer’s etc.
Phase III clinical trials were announced for an autologous [the patient’s own] stem cell treatment to restore blood vessels and reestablish blood flow following critical limb ischemia (CLI). Ischemia is a lack of blood to an area in the body, typically due to a blood clot, and is common in diabetics and other patients whose conditions result in damage or clotting in the blood vessels. In extreme cases, ischemia can lead to painful ulcers, gangrene and even amputation, given that cells in the area of decreased blood flow begin to die rapidly. The treatment seeks to facilitate re-vascularization through the administration of both blood stem cells and endothelial progenitor cells, which form the walls of blood vessels.
The Hospital for Special Surgery has been awarded an $800,000 grant to conduct a Phase II clinical trial utilizing autologous (the patient’s own) stem cells to help mend rotator cuff tears. This sizable grant will be used to treat one of the most common musculoskeletal conditions, particularly in athletes. Surgical repair for rotator cuff tears leave patients with resilient discomfort and pain, and many patients re-tear the muscle and are unable to return to full capacity. Stem cells can ameliorate the treatment process by facilitating recovery. The trial will investigate the efficacy of stem cells in skeletal muscle and tendon tissue regeneration, as well as the reduction of inflammation.
China is investing around $300 million into clean tech companies producing environmentally friendly, lab-grown meats. The process, in which stem cells are taken from a live animal and differentiated into meat-tissue without harming the animal, has been gaining ground, with 8 companies around the world working to bring accessible, and far less wasteful, protein to the public. “Clean meat” advocates project that the processes utilizes a tenth of the resources and land that the livestock industry currently uses, and contributes less to global pollution. Recent data by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization states that 14.5 % of all greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to global warming, come from the livestock industry, and lab-grown meat aims to change that. “There’s no better way to combine [fighting climate change, pollution and food safety issues] than by developing and scaling clean meat,” says Peter Verstrate, CEO of the clean meat company, Mosa Meat.
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 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.
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.
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.
Researchers at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital are one step closer to reducing organ donor shortages by creating self-organizing human liver tissues. Utilizing innovative genetic sequencing observed in a 3D microenvironment, researchers identified the transcription factors responsible for the signal that causes stem cells to differentiate into liver tissue. This sequence of genes enabled them to program lab-grown liver cells that both genetically, and functionally, closely resemble actual developing liver cells.