Dr. Patricia Braga and her team at the University of Sao Paolo, in collaboration with Alysson Muotri, professor of pediatrics and cellular and molecular medicine at UC San Diego, are using dental stem cells from donated baby teeth to grow neurons and examine the role of astrocytes in the expression of Autistic traits such as language impairment, repetitive behaviors and sleeping difficulties. Dr. Braga has used dental pulp stem cells from two groups of patients - children with Autism and a non-autistic control group, and directed their stem cells to differentiate into brain cells in vitro. When allowed to grow, the stem cells developed into clusters that contained the star-shaped brain cells called astrocytes, as well as fully grown neurons. Upon closer inspection, the astrocytes and neurons from children with Autism showed significant functional differences compared to the control group cells. Autistic astrocytes release excessive amounts of an inflammatory molecule called interleukin-6 (or IL6), which, in concentrated amounts, can harm nearby neurons and hinder their functionality. Additionally, the neurons from Autistic children were found to fire less frequently, form fewer synapses (connections with other neurons) and release less glutamate, which is used to excite surrounding neurons and transmit signals.
A study at the University of Illinois found that stem cell injections can promote angiogenesis, or blood vessel generation, which improves the circulation problems associated with diabetes. The condition in question is peripheral artery disease or PAD, in which patients suffer from restricted blood flow caused by plaque on the walls of the arteries; most typically in the leg. This is due in part to poor circulation in diabetic patients which can cause moderate to severe pain during any movement of the leg. It can also lead to ulcers, sores and, in severe cases, gangrene, which can lead to amputation. In an animal model, stem cell injections were shown to improve blood flow and circulation in problematic areas. They also altered the gene expression of surrounding cells to reduce inflammation, which typically exacerbates the problem. PAD currently lacks effective treatments options and is difficult to diagnose until it has progressed severely hence, the study points to a potential breakthrough therapy that utilizes the patient’s own stem cells.
Researchers at Harvard Medical School have utilized stem cells to grow a functional small intestine in a lab. Using human stem cells, the researchers were able to differentiate them into intestinal cells and induced them to form a fully functional intestinal tissue. Previous studies have been successful at growing miniscule segments of the organ, but this innovative study has homed in on a method for compiling smaller, stem cell-derived tissue into an organoid that could soon be available to use in transplants as replacement for damaged organs. Patients who suffer from gastrointestinal tract ailments could benefit from this, in addition to patients who have had portions of their digestive tracts removed due to cancer.
Sanford Health is heading into the second phase of clinical trials involving autologous (the patient’s own) stem cells to treat non-healing wounds and ulcers on the body. The trial will be recruiting patients 18 and older to continue testing the efficacy of stem cells in treating wounds that would not heal due to a person’s preexisting conditions. People with weakened immune systems could also benefit from this treatment, given that it would prevent the enormous risk of infection that non-healing wounds pose. Additionally, the treatment could even be applied to heal wounds from surgeries, expediting recovery time dramatically.
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 team at Central Hospital in Nancy, France is conducting research utilizing dental stem cells to regrow and restore bone density. The trial aims to direct dental mesenchymal stem cells to differentiate into engineered osteoblasts, as well as promoting angiogenesis, which is necessary given that bones typically lack sufficient vascularization to make efficient repairs. The benefit of using autologous [the patient’s own] stem cells makes this an effective treatment option that does not pose a risk of rejection. By directing stem cells to promote bone mineralization and endothelial growth, as well as creating vascularization to promote healing, stem cells can be applied to a variety of bone trauma and deficiencies.
Phase III clinical trials for a stem cell based ALS treatment has been initiated. ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is a disorder in which motor neurons in the body rapidly degenerate, and the treatment aims to prolong the survival rate of afflicted individuals by using autologous [the patient’s own] mesenchymal stem cells (the same stem cells found in teeth), which can be differentiated into fully-functioning neurons. The trials, to be conducted by BrainStorm Therapeutics, exploits the company’s proprietary technology [NurOwn], which utilizes mesenchymal stem cells. BrainStorm obtains these cells from the patient, expanding and differentiating the stem cells prior to application. The stem cells begin producing neurotrophic factors that facilitate neuronal growth and regeneration.
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.
In a recently published study at Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute, stem cells obtained from younger subjects and injected into aging subjects resulted in improved heart function, and an overall increase in stamina and activity levels. As we age, our heart muscles begin to stiffen, causing fluid to build up in the heart and preventing the muscles from relaxing properly. This is similar to hearts of patients who have experienced heart failure with ejection fraction. Therefore, this research is pivotal in treating both heart failure and age-related deterioration. In an animal model, mice that received the progenitor cells (a more specified type of stem cell) obtained from younger mice showed multifaceted beneficial results. Not only did the older mice display improved heart function, but their activity levels increased, and their telomeres, which shorten as cells age, were regenerated. The implications of this research show that though the stem cells were injected into the heart, beneficial effects were seen all over the body, in addition to showing that younger stem cells are in fact far more proliferative than older cells.
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.