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.
Artist and researcher Amy Karle is collaborating with researchers at the California Academy of Science and Autodesk to develop a method to 3D print a human arm using stem cells. Karle created a 3D printed scaffold and a culture medium that will direct the stem cells to grow into the structure of the bones in the arm. Her methods could be essential for future limb transplants, which could be grown in a lab rather than obtained from a donor.
Researchers at the University of Minnesota, world leaders in the treatment of Epidermolysis Bullosa (EB), have developed a stem cell treatment [utilizing mesenchymal stem cells – MSCs] to treat the disorder. This devastating condition involves problems with connective tissue, making skin blister and tear with the slightest contact; severe cases impact internal organ tissues as well. Affecting 1 in every 20,000 children, the disorder can lead to severe infections and be fatal. The team at the University utilized a treatment involving complete renewal of the immune system through chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant, followed by the administration of mesenchymal stem cells to regenerate the skin tissue.
Researchers at University of California San Francisco are utilizing stem cells to produce small, lab-grown organs that are helping identify the source of craniofacial birth defects. Children with these defects must endure a life of difficulties, including trouble breathing, seeing and speaking, due to the deformity of the face or head. However, with this advancement in research, UCSF’s team has been working on a drug that could treat the separation of mutated and normal cells, which is what typically leads to the deformities.