A stem cell graft to treat cartilage injuries has been approved by the FDA. Created by the biotechnology company Vericel, the procedure is called Matrix Associated Chondrocyte Implantation (MACI), and involves obtaining stem cells from the patient and culturing them in a lab. The cultured cells are then placed into a matrix to create layers of 3D tissue, which is then implanted back into the knee to repair the injured cartilage. This treatment is specifically targeted to younger patients [recall - younger stem cells are more plentiful and more active] who have experienced what is called a focal chondral defect, which is a lesion or hole in the cartilage due to an injury. This treatment is significant because these cartilage lesions often develop into osteoarthritis, with serious implications for the patient’s future quality of life. Hence, utilization of this FDA approved autologous stem cell treatment would not only address the physical distress of the condition but would also effectively mitigate the concerns and stress patients experience regarding future complications.
In a clinical study, researchers at Queen Mary University of London will utilize autologous stem cells to reboot the immune system of Crohn’s disease patients, with the aim of greatly alleviating the inflammation of the bowel thus significantly improving the patients’ quality of life. Crohn’s disease is an autoimmune disorder in which portions of the bowel are attacked by the immune system leading to severe inflammation, malnutrition and debilitating abdominal pain. Though there is currently no effective cure, this stem cell treatment has shown promise in treating the erroneous attacks of the immune system on the bowel tissues. The treatment involves a stimulation of the bone marrow to release stem cells, which are then harvested, followed by an irradiation of the body to eliminate the malfunctioning immune system. The recovered healthy immune stem cells are then reinfused into the body to reboot the immune system and eliminate the inflammation of the bowels.
Researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch are using autologous (the patient’s own) stem cells to successfully transplant entire lungs without the risk of rejection. In animal models, researchers obtained a lung from a donor and removed all blood and cells, leaving a lung scaffold. Then, they obtained autologous lung stem cells from the subject and seeded the lung scaffold so that the lung would be repopulated. This created a brand new lung for transplantation, comprised of cells that would not be rejected because they are the patient’s own. When implanted back into the body, the engineered lungs were able to grow and vascularize with no additional treatments or infusions. This protocol could potentially be expanded to provide life-saving organs for hundreds of thousands of patients waiting for organ transplants, which, besides the obvious shortage, still pose a risk of immune rejection.
Researchers are developing stem cell therapies to restore neurons and repair optic nerve injuries, which cause severe visual impairment and eventual blindness. Currently, optic nerve injuries are untreatable, due to the neuronal death that renders the nerve non-functional following a traumatic injury. This study investigates how periodontal ligament stem cells [PDLSCs] can improve retinal ganglion cells’ (RGC) survival, responsible for the optic nerve’s function. In an animal model, three weeks after an injection of PDLSCs, researchers observed inflammatory responses indicative of increased RGC survival, as well as regeneration of nerve connections, with no adverse effects.
Legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus is back on the course, thanks to stem cells. After years of debilitating chronic back pain that limited his playing time, the autologous [his own stem cells] treatment has him back swinging and playing competitively again. By utilizing his own stem cells, Jack virtually eliminated any chance of rejection, thereby significantly increasing the odds of a successful outcome.
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.